Presidential Speeches

Opening Convocation, President Jo Young Switzer

The First Four Lessons
August 27, 2013

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a student in one of my classes gave a great speech about a disastrous family vacation – one that was like the trips that Chevy Chase and his family take. In the first hour of the trip, the mother turned onto a toll road entrance ramp in a torrential rain storm and had to drive the wrong direction for 47 miles before she could turn around. Our student’s brother got poison ivy in a very bad place on his body, and it seeped a lot. The dad forgot his glasses and couldn’t read menus or maps the whole week. Everything went wrong – and they realized they would remember it forever.

Their family adopted a new motto: Adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.

When things don’t go the way we had planned or the way we think they should go, we have a choice. We can consider them a disaster and get frustrated and angry. Or we can decide whether to get mad, to adapt, to laugh, to give up.

What difference does this choice make? It makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference in our spirits and in our relationships. It may make us feel like failures. Or it can make us stronger because we survived what happened and what we learned from it.

Adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered. That is lesson Number One.

The second lesson for a good life comes from a wise man who never had the chance to attend college. He worked for 47 years on an assembly line at International Harvester on third shift. He ate supper at 11 p.m. every night of his working life. My husband’s grandfather gave this advice to his grandkids and this is lesson Number Two: “If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.”
Those of you who have been in classes with Dave Switzer will probably figure out that when Dave was a kid, he heard this message more than once.

Think how different the world would be if everyone followed this lesson. It would be easier to get along with your roommates if you knew they wouldn’t touch your stuff. Situations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen, and other tension points might change dramatically. Shop-lifting would disappear. Legality isn’t the issue. The issue is respect. It’s not illegal to move something on your friend’s desk, but it does have consequences. If it’s not yours, don’t touch it, Lesson Two.

A third lesson comes from Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Effective People. Covey encourages us to seek first to understand others before expecting them to understand us. We need to try to understand other persons. We certainly need to understand them before we criticize or gossip about their behaviors.

Think how you prepared to come to school in the last week. Getting packed is not easy. Your parents don’t want you to leave a mess for them to clean up, so they watch you like hawks. Your sister is afraid you’ll take her favorite sweatshirt. And your stuff doesn’t fit in the car. And on top of all that, your mother (or father or boyfriend or girlfriend) starts to cry. It would be easy to say “Thanks for ruining my day.” But this is the time to try to understand. If your mother is teary, consider saying “I know this is hard, but you’ve taught me well, and it’ll be good at Manchester. I’ll call you when I get there.”
Too many of us listen very superficially or judge people before we understand them. Let me give two examples.

I was once in the express line at a Meijer grocery store with a friend. We were in a hurry. The line was moving very, very slowly. Everyone in line was grumbling about the slow pace – and in an express line, of all places. When my friend and I got to the checker, we saw that she was a short woman who was an amputee. She had one arm that worked and another arm that was just a short stump. Not only did she have to work the cash register, but she also had to bag the groceries into those clingy plastic bags that are hard for anyone to open. Seek first to understand. We did not do that, and I feel bad about it to this day.

Another way to understand a person’s behavior is to ask the question: “What else do I need to know?” It’s one of the most helpful questions in the world. Several years ago, a student complained to me about a professor who did not include his home phone number on his syllabus. The student was really angry: “I pay all this money to be able to be in touch with faculty, and this guy won’t even let us call him at home! I like to study at night, and he’s not in his office then! How is that for being available to students?” What the student didn’t know was that the professor was the father of a premature baby, and the baby’s health was still not stable. She needed a quiet environment to sleep. Seek first to understand before jumping to conclusions and criticisms. Lesson Three.

So far, I’ve shared three lessons for making the year a good one.

  • An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.
  • If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
  • Seek first to understand

Fourth lesson ... This year will be a good year if you persist when things get tough. Two of our kids, Matt and Sarah, started college the same year, one in Chicago and one in Washington, D.C. In October their first year, within 24 hours, they each called home saying they wanted to transfer. They said the majors they wanted to study were not what they expected and since that was the reason they chose the schools they did, they wanted to leave. We said, “Stick it out. We’ll talk over Christmas break.” They did. We did. Matt changed his major. Sarah didn’t. They both graduated in four years from the schools where they started. They persisted even when it got tough.

Almost all college students have moments when they question whether they should be in school. Am I capable of the academic work here? Will I make friends? Did I choose the right major? The lesson our graduates share over and over is: Stick with it, even when things are hard. You may have trouble with a big spreadsheet assignment. Or you may have a difficult roommate. You may miss your boyfriend/girlfriend back home. You may have a test with the hardest professor when you know you’ve not studied enough. You may just be tired. Stick with it. You won’t regret doing that.

Faculty and staff will work with you because they want you to succeed. They won‘t work harder than you (I hope), but they will help you as you work through challenges. Coaches and RDs and professors and custodians want you to do well. Patty who swipes your card at lunch wants you to succeed. You have lots of people here who will stand beside you. These people will listen and help you explore options. They will motivate and encourage you.
Here are some good memories from last year:

  • Student volunteers serving the weekly free community dinners downtown
  • 1,300 students staying off the Mall grass when it was starting to grow
  • Students and faculty supporting two of our students with aggressive cancer
  • Lunches with John Deal and Walt Wiltschek and Allen Machielson and Leonard Williams and the Espeset family, coaches, and others

Things were good last year. But they weren’t good every day. When things get hard, ultimately you need to be the one who sticks with it. People will stand by you as you explore a new major or develop a new habit. If you want to see examples of persistence, watch Carl Strike and Dave Good who take care of our trees and lawns in the eternal battle to mow faster than the grass can grow, to rake faster than the leaves can accumulate, and to shovel faster than the snow can fall. Watch coaches who help new teams learn how to play as units. Watch retired people from town who attend convo and concerts to keep learning even in their 80s. There are examples of persistence all around you. Everyone here is ready for this year. Each of you students can succeed here, and you will be studying with faculty members who will teach you well.

On behalf of our faculty and staff, I welcome every single student to Manchester University for this, our 125th academic year.

  • This year will bring some inconveniences but we will transform them into adventures.
  • If something’s not ours, you won’t touch it.
  • We’ll seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  • And we will work hard when things get difficult because we will succeed and graduate.

Four simple and important lessons.

I invite you to stand now and to read aloud The Manchester Pledge for the year, which is based on our Mission.

For information about speeches by President Jo Young Switzer, please contact Media Relations, 260-982-5285.


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