Freshman Convocation Remarks: 'Take charge of your body and soul. …Refuse to leave the right. Get back up when it appears you've been counted out.'

Issue Date: 
September 7, 2010

This is the printed version of remarks delivered by Kathy W. Humphrey, Pitt vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, during the Aug. 25 Freshman Convocation Ceremony in the John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center.

Kathy W. HumphreyKathy W. Humphrey

Class of 2014, parents, family members, returning students, and colleagues, good afternoon.

This is my favorite time of the year because the arrival of every new class brings energy and excitement to campus. The sounds, activities, and pace are rejuvenating in a way that makes me so very glad that I have been chosen to work at the University of Pittsburgh, to serve as one of its vice provosts and as your dean of students.

It is always a tremendous honor for me to welcome the new class to our community. Know that we are absolutely elated that you are here.

Each year as I craft my message to the incoming class, I think about what you have experienced, what your concerns may be, and, ultimately, what you, the newest members of our community, really need to hear from me today.

Because I am the mother of twin college freshmen, I have experienced from a different perspective what it means for a family to prepare to send its children away to college.

You see, I know that for many of you, making the decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh is one of the biggest decisions that you have ever made. And rest assured, you are attending one of the best institutions in this country. I know that you have made a good decision because it is our goal to provide you with the best collegiate experience in the world.

For some of you, your summer experience may have been a bit rocky, because you believe that you are now an adult and that you should have adult rights and privileges. That belief may have caused a little friction in your home, but know that such discord is common and often serves to protect you and your parents during the separation process.

Some of you, right at this moment, are being stricken with something that is very familiar to us: homesickness. I saw signs of it in my own son after I took him to college a couple of weeks ago. A few days later, I received a message that he had called. Now this son is very extroverted and was extremely excited about going away to school. In the past, he had called only when he needed something. So when I returned his call, the first words out of my mouth were, “What’s up, David, what do you need?” He replied. “What do you mean, ‘What’s up?’ I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

I was stunned and a little embarrassed. We had a great conversation, but I realized as I hung up the phone that while he never said it, he was missing home. Nevertheless, he was determined to connect with his new community.

I challenge you to do the same. If you will engage in any of Pitt’s many activities, if you will realize that new friendships made here may develop into lifelong relationships—I am confident that any feelings of homesickness will subside and eventually disappear.

Don’t be too hard on your parents. While this may be an easy or difficult transition for you, it can be a hard transition for many parents. For some, it feels like only yesterday that they brought you home from the hospital or were attending your Little League games or helping you with homework. So just know this: When they told you to be in by certain time, it was their way of saying, “I love you, and I want to protect you.” When they seemed to be pressuring you about your schoolwork or other responsibilities, it was their way of saying, “I love you, and I want you to be ready to take on any responsibility that life throws at you.” And when they disapproved of one of your friends, it was their way of saying, “I love you, and I want nothing and no one to deter you from moving in the right direction.”

You may not be able to see this love today, but you will soon realize that you were fortunate to have parents, family members, or mentors who loved you enough to ensure that you were ready to sit where you are today. There were more than 20,000 students who applied to the University of Pittsburgh, but we selected you because we believe that you have what it takes to be successful on our campus and play a significant role in our community.

We congratulate you, your family, and your mentors for this great accomplishment.

While many of you may be concerned about what you are leaving behind, others of you may be more like I was as a freshman entering college. The thought that truly thrilled me that summer before my freshman year, was that I, Kathy Wilson, was finally going to be totally in charge of my own life.

In my neighborhood, we would say, large and in charge!

Now being in charge was a big deal to me because whenever my parents were not home, the oldest child was always left in charge. And because I am number 10 of 11 children, it goes without saying, I was never in charge. Being in charge of my life then meant that I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted, and be where I wanted for as long as I wanted to be there.

Finally, the day that I had dreamed about but also was a little frightened by had arrived. I was going to fly from my nest and be in charge of my total existence. But truth be told, I actually had no idea how to manage my total existence. The Greek philosopher Plato in his book The Republic breaks down the components of human life into what he called a four-part being.

One part obviously is the physical body; the chancellor has already challenged you to take care of yourselves physically. Plato refers to the remaining parts of the self as the soul, which has three virtues: intellect, will, and emotion. Plato writes that unless a person takes charge of his soul, his life will be unbalanced and chaotic. I would like to spend just a few minutes sharing with you pieces of advice that I believe will help you manage your life and keep chaos to a minimum. This is advice that I have gained from mentors, family members, friends, former students, and by watching others live their lives. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”

Expanding your intellect is our, and hopefully your, primary goal for your journey here at Pitt. We will provide countless experiences to help you develop your intellect, but because you are in charge, it will be up to you to take advantage of them.

Going to class and being on time: It’s up to you. Gaining new experiences that will challenge your thinking and actions: It’s up to you. Performing at your highest ability in the classroom: It’s up to you. Developing relationships with people who do not look, think, believe, or dress like you: It’s up to you. Doing all of these things will expand and prepare you for your future, but it is up to you to make the connections and decisions that will expand your intellect and make you a stronger individual.

Plato describes the will as the virtue that summons our courage so that we can carry out the dictates of our intellect. Our will is what makes us strong and brave enough to move forward.

A prizefighter was once asked, “What does it take to become a champion?” “You must be willing to fight one more round,” he replied. So my message to you today is: Refuse to leave the ring. Get back up when it appears you’ve been counted out. There may be a tough class ahead that you fear, and you may even be tempted to change your major because of it. Instead, call forth your will. Be courageous and seek help from your professors, tutors, or classmates who have mastered the material. In this life, victory is possible if you have the courage to set your will in motion.

I also want to talk a little about emotions. Arthur Chickening, a noted student development theorist, maintains that one of the most difficult challenges young adults face is managing their emotions.

Managing emotions requires self-control and confidence, and students who have those attributes are better able to withstand life’s turmoil. Now that you are in charge of your lives, it behooves you to develop the mechanisms that will help you manage your emotions each day.

Many mornings when I finish dressing for the day, I look in the mirror and I smile. I may be having a bad hair day, but I smile; my shoes may not match my suit perfectly, but I smile. My children may be screaming in the background, because one is wearing what the other had planned to wear that day, but I smile. The biggest white zit may have appeared overnight in the middle of my African American forehead, but I still smile. I get the first smile of the day, and I remind myself that no one else put the smile on my face, and I shall not allow anyone else to permanently take it away.

In 1900, Lyman Frank Baum wrote the beloved American novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In this tale, the main character, Dorothy, spends most of the story trying to find her way home. Yet many believe that Dorothy’s search is not for Kansas, but instead to find herself.

Along the journey, she meets the Scarecrow, who is looking for a brain—enhanced intellect. She meets the Cowardly Lion, who is looking for courage— the will to move, even in fear. And finally, she meets a Tin Man, who wanted a heart—the ability to manage emotions. Just as a cyclone began this tale, life’s changes will present opportunities for you to enhance your intellect, exert your will, and manage your emotions. In turn, these opportunities will help each of you to make incredible strides in your own life, and possibly incredible contributions in your home, community, and maybe even the world.

You will be tempted, at times, to believe that others are holding the keys to your success, but never succumb to that idea. The only one who can limit you is you.

My hope for each of you is that this will be an amazing year, that you will enjoy expanding your mind, and that you will commit to becoming stronger physically, intellectually, and emotionally. And that every moment from this day forward, you will move in a heartfelt way to become the man or woman you were created to be.

Welcome to the University of Pittsburgh.