Student Leadership Awards Ceremony
April 14, 2013
Comments by Provost Mick Smyer
Each of you is here because you have already shown leadership. What's your secret?
In the next few minutes, I want to ask each of our award recipients to reflect on your time at Bucknell and see if you have learned some of the lessons for leadership gleaned from experts.
Lesson one comes from historian Delores Kearns Goodwin. When she spoke on Bucknell's campus she offered the following definition of leadership: "Leadership is the ability to withstand adversity." In many ways, Goodwin was echoing a remark by Ernest Hemingway, "Everyone is broken by life, but afterwards many are strong in the broken places." So my hope for you is that during your time at Bucknell you have failed AND that you have learned from those failures, becoming stronger and wiser in the process.
Lesson two comes from Confucius, who long ago advised: "Do not wish for quick results, nor look for small advantages. If you look for quick results, you will not reach the ultimate goal. If you are led astray by small advantages, you will never accomplish great things." My hope for you is that you have learned the value of setting goals that stretch your vision and your reach.
Lesson three comes from Thomas Jefferson, who is reported to have said: "I am a firm believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." Each of you is here today because you have risen to the challenges placed before you — not only setting a goal, but working to achieve it. My hope for you is that you will take the lesson of hard work and apply it throughout life.
Each of you is here because you have shown leadership. How did you get this way? As a psychologist, I know there has been a long scholarly debate on whether or not leaders are born leaders or whether there are key learning elements that shape leaders.
Each of you is here because of both the nature and nurture you received before coming to Bucknell. Perhaps the sociologist Emile Durkheim said it best: "We do not belong to ourselves entirely. We owe something of ourselves to others." I would like to ask family members and friends who are here celebrating our award winners to rise and be acknowledged for all that you have contributed to your leader's development.
But your development as leaders didn't stop when you came to Bucknell! As a community, we were ready for you. As you may know, our student affairs colleagues and our faculty had developed a set of goals for each of you, including this one:
Bucknell graduates will:
Understand the importance of and develop the capacities for self-assessment, ethical reasoning, and effective interaction with others so as to act responsibly and to promote justice in professional and communal life.
In short, the Bucknell community is premised on the belief that leadership is a function of both innate skills and abilities AND learning experiences. I would like to ask the staff members and faculty members who are here because they have contributed to making Bucknell your laboratory for leadership to please rise and be acknowledged for all that they have done.
As you go forward at Bucknell and elsewhere, I hope that you will heed the advice of the late Rev. Peter Gomes, former emeritus minister of Memorial Church at Harvard. He exhorted his students to "Think small; act large." What does he mean by this?
Think small: as he put it "I do not mean you to be small minded or petty or parochial. I mean that you should focus your ambitions on those things that you can do something about, namely, about yourself and the things over which you have some degree of control . . . your temper, your manners, your morals, your habits . . ." Gomes warns us to focus on the possible: "The greatest dilemma in life is to fail to do something little that you could do because you were waiting to do something heroic that you couldn't do."
But if you only focused on yourselves, you wouldn't be here today. You've already understood Ben Franklin's aphorism: "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle." That's where Gomes's second principle comes in: act large. "Another way of saying this is that you should live generously. Be extravagant in your expectations, lavish in your hopes, ambitious in your aspirations, especially for others."
In the room today, we have examples of student leaders who have both Thought Small and Acted Large. You have learned the lessons of leadership well. Congratulations to each of you! And thank you for all you have contributed to the Bucknell community.
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