Senior Orations – Daniel Sechtin (’16)

Last but not least, our Senior Orations comes to a close. Today we feature the work of senior Daniel Sechtin, with “What is Pro HumanitateThe Power of Asking.”



Since setting foot on campus at Wake Forest University, I’ve often thought about our motto, Pro Humanitate, and wondered: What do these words really mean? Anyone can Google Pro Humanitate and learn that the phrase means “for humanity” or “we do what we do for the sake of humanity, for the people of the world.” These translations got me thinking about how we can embody a motto like this. How can we be pro humanitate in the flesh? How can we be “for humanity” in the most purposeful ways?

I believe the answer lies in the power of asking. Asking can come in many shapes and forms–asking a question, asking for advice, asking for a favor. Asking can take us very far, as long as we’re asking the right people the right questions. I experienced this truth firsthand last summer when, as a small town guy from Florence, South Carolina, I had the opportunity to intern at CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. It’s been my dream for as long as I can remember to be a news anchor, but once I actually arrived for the first day of the internship, I worried I might be in over my head. So I started asking. I asked reporters, anchors, and producers for advice, storing away precious pieces of information.

One day, all eyes turned to my home state of South Carolina and the confederate flag flying over our capitol. Then I asked a question that opened the door to my future. I asked my employers if they ever thought about sending someone to a college campus in order to gain a student perspective. Unexpectedly, they handed me a camera and said, “Go for it.” Just by asking one question, I was living out my dream of being a news reporter, and later that week, I reported my story live on national television.

Some of you may now be thinking: “what does this have to do with Pro Humanitate?” Well, it all comes back to this: When I returned to Wake Forest for our senior year, I started rethinking the way I pose questions. I began asking more of myself and less of others. I asked questions like: Am I following my passion? Am I being the best person that I can be? And most importantly, how am I responding when others ask me for help? What am I doing for the sake of humanity? For the people of the world? Now I started to feel that I was asking the right questions.

Most of us are asking one big question right now: What the heck am I doing with my life after graduation? Luckily, we all are leaving here with a degree from an amazing institution and we’ll probably end up just fine. However, as we go into the real world and our lives begin to change, it’s imperative that we continuously ask ourselves: What are we doing to change the lives of others? What are we doing to make the world a better place? After all, we can remember how much we’ve benefited from the right people asking the right questions.

Where would we be if Maya Angelou hadn’t once asked why society treats the life of an African American woman with lesser value than any other human being? Her question set an example for generations to come and helped fuel the American civil rights movement.

Where would we be if Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, hadn’t asked, “How far can we push technology for medical advances?” leading a team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to create the first lab-grown organ for human implant.

Where would we be if Amy Xie, who is in our graduating class, hadn’t asked, “Why do astronauts experience back injury and sleep deprivation while in space?” a question that inspired her to invent a new sleeper pod that will change the lives of future astronauts.

And where would we be if a group of Wake Forest Management students hadn’t wondered what they might do to help hungry children in our own community of Winston-Salem? They stepped up and assisted The Backpack Program in feeding kids who go without food an average of 108 days out of the year when school’s out for weekends and holidays.

Service projects like Hit the Bricks, Wake n’ Shake, and Project Pumpkin show that we’re already on the right track. But we are the generation of the future and it’s our responsibility to keep asking the important questions whose answers may have the power to change lives. We also share the responsibility to act when others ask us for help.

I’ll leave you with one final example. Every summer, I serve as a counselor at a week-long camp called Palmetto Boys State, leading a group of forty rising high school seniors through rigorous competitive exercises in issues of government and politics. At the end of last summer’s session, I asked one of my campers: what did you learn? His answer was wise for someone only 17 years old. He said, “I learned with enough hard work and dedication, seemingly impossible goals become realities.”

Imagine what we can and will accomplish together as Wake Forest alumni when we all embrace one common goal: to make the world a better place by constantly asking ourselves: What can I do to help others? What can I do to better myself? What can I do to make the world a better place? Questions like these are at the heart of living for the sake of humanity. Questions like these are Pro Humanitate.

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