Presidential Speeches

Opening Convocation, President Jo Young Switzer

The Best Road Is Not Always The Easiest
August 28, 2012

Our lives unfold gradually. When we are little, we enjoy our neighborhood friends, play Little League, go to school, have some good teachers and some really bad ones, deal with some bullies, watch television. We eat special foods at the holiday family gatherings – fried chicken, tamales, pies, BBQ, lumpia, mashed potatoes, majigohan, maluda, menudo, vine leaves with eggplant and squash, baked beans, brats on the grill, and corn on the cob. Manchester University is a surprisingly wide world!

But regardless of where we grew up, some of our growing up was good, and some wasn’t. In many of our lives, the greatest opportunities to learn did not happen when everything was working out perfectly. My life started out easy enough. My dad was a school superintendent and my mother stayed home to take care of me and my three sisters. We played flag football with the neighborhood kids and went to church camp in the summers. My life journey began on a carefree, easy path.

Life changed forever during my second year of college when my mother died of cancer after being sick less than four months. Four years later, my sister, Sonia, an elementary education major here, died in a car accident, returning from the East Coast with Manchester friends. These two deaths re-shaped my life. My days of being protected from pain and loss were over, and like those of you who have experienced similar things, I travelled a lonely road.

But my Dad believed deeply in accepting loss. He knew the truth in the words from Ecclesiastes:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot ...”

Dad did all he could to help us learn to live fully. A Manchester education does that, too. It transforms our graduates to be prepared for our lives after college – in our jobs and in our communities. Paul Schrock, a good friend of Manchester who lives in Indianapolis, had a Facebook post about his wife delivering items to a needy family from a nonprofit group called Second Starts.

Here is what Paul posted:

“During the ten years it’s been in existence, Second Starts has provided needed housewares to hundreds of families each year and is making a major dent in the conditions that cause persons to fall back into homelessness after getting a second start at mainstream living.

“On one recent delivery, Sally made several trips up and down stairs with multiple boxes and bags of household goods for a family that clearly had nothing at all in their new apartment. As she set the last box on the bare floor, Sally said, ‘Enjoy. Hope this helps.’ and turned to leave. At this point in the delivery, it is not uncommon for a recipient to say, ‘Thank you’ or ‘God bless you’ but in this case, Sally didn’t hear anything as she headed toward the door.

Looking back, Sally saw the woman hunched down on the floor next to the boxes, sobbing in gratitude for the unmatched plates, dented pans, threadbare sheets and other items that had been delivered; items that many of us would consider tossing in the trash.”

What an impact those volunteers have on the lives of people who have known nothing but despair. Now, they have hope and a second start.

Like life for those struggling to get by, learning is not always easy. It includes going to bed early enough so you can attend all of your classes alert and awake – every day. That’s not always easy. It includes studying when you want to be playing a video game. That’s not easy. It includes attending an afternoon class when it you want to nap. Manchester University is not always an easy road, but it is a road that will get you where you want to go – and maybe even further.

Learning is the central reason all of us are here. Not just memorizing. Not writing a paper the night before it’s due. Not all-nighters to study for exams. Those tactics don’t produce learning. Learning requires planning ahead, keeping up with the reading, asking your professors when you don’t understand something, making choices every day to keep your focus on your classes. The professors on this stage work here because of you, and they work very hard to teach well. Some of them will expand your thinking in ways for which you will be thankful your entire lives.

They arrive here each day prepared to do the hard work of teaching. The syllabi you receive tomorrow and Thursday did not write themselves. The ways your professors get you involved in class discussions take careful planning. The faculty sitting here today did not take the easy roads to good teaching. They choose their words carefully and plan each class period to expand your knowledge. They take their work seriously.

But in the end, learning is up to you.

We live in a time when technology seems to make many things easy.

  • Need to know Michael Phelps’ home town? Just google it.

  • Need to know how hot it will be tomorrow? There’s an app for that.

  • Need to find your Social Security number? Just get on your cell and call home – they’ll probably know it.

  • Trying to lose weight? Before you take those tater tots, check for the calories.

Many things that used to be hard are now easy. Anyone can “do” easy – but to learn – really learn – is rarely the easy route.

Many very important things take effort – sometimes over a long time. Childbirth takes effort. Being an Olympic athlete takes effort. Growing a garden takes effort. Learning takes effort, too. With all the technology we use, we sometimes forget that learning also takes time. Learning is not about isolated facts – it is thinking carefully about how information fits together and determining whether information is accurate. Learning requires total attention to a class discussion; not trying to check for text messages and listen to the professor at the same time.

I suspect that some of your high school classes came pretty easily for you. You could pay enough attention in class to pass the test. Well, that doesn’t happen for students in Professor Planer’s Experiencing the Arts classes. It doesn’t happen in Professor Huntington’s anatomy class. It doesn’t happen in Professor Polando’s biology classes. In fact, in most classes here, the last-minute studying approach simply does not work because that kind of cramming does doesn’t help you learn. There is a lot of research to support that.

Real learning requires reading and practicing and studying every day. It means concentrating when you are reading – not watching television and reading at the same time.

The best road is not always the easiest.

There are four ways to increase your learning at Manchester:

1. Study every day. It really works. It’s very easy to get into grade trouble in the first year, and it’s very hard to get out of it. Study every day, starting tomorrow.

2. Ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s how to take tests or how to figure out a math problem, ask for help. Faculty will help. Success center staff will help. Residence hall staff will help. Tutoring services, professors’ office hours, health services, coaches, and counselors – they will help. Ask for help when you need it.

3. Be good ambassadors for Manchester University. When you are in restaurants, competing in athletics, walking across campus, performing on stage, or shopping in town – you reflect Manchester University. I attended the memorial service for John Sharp last Friday. John graduated last May and died in a tragic fall in Indianapolis. At John’s memorial service, his pastors described John’s zest for life. I was struck with the ways Manchester students interacted with John’s family. Our students were respectful, kind, and loving – even when they grieving themselves. We will have a memorial service for John tomorrow evening at 7 o’clock in the upper Union. All are welcome. Whether you are at a funeral or an athletic competition or a Habitat build or at McDonald’s, be good ambassadors for Manchester.

4. Say “thank you” at least three times a day. I believe gratitude is essential for a good life. I really do! When Chartwell’s serves delicious cookies (and they do!), thank Marcia, the baker. When your professors take time in their offices to explain readings that you couldn’t understand, thank them! When you see custodians cleaning in your residence halls, thank them because they have a very hard job. Three times a day minimum. Doing this will revolutionize your own attitude. On days you are tired or irritable, increase the number to five and see what happens.

A poem by Dag Hammarskjöld, one of the founders of the United Nations and close collaborator with Andrew Cordier, after whom this building is named, celebrates the totality of life.

Hammarskjöld wrote: “For all that has been – THANKS! For all that will be – YES!”

For all you have already been – sons and daughters, high school students, summer workers, musicians, artists, athletes, brothers and sisters, teacher, friends, neighbors – THANKS!

For all you will be – Manchester University graduates, responsible citizens, and lifelong learners – YES!

It’s going to be a good year. We are glad you are here.

For information about speeches by President Jo Young Switzer, please contact the Office of Public Relations, 260-982-5285.


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