Stay in the Race!

Issue Date: 
September 11, 2006

Vice Provost and Dean Advises New Students


Kathy Humphrey, Pitt Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, delivered the following address Aug. 24 at the University’s Freshman Convocation
"Messages—they come in all sorts of ways.
You have found them on MySpace and even on your parents’ faces.
They’ve entertained you, and sometimes, even bored you.
But, messages they come in all sorts of ways.
Songs, poems, and on billboards, blogs and spam, often jam the rams we need to get them.
Messages, they come to us in all sorts of ways.
They can come instantly or subtly begging for our attention, reminding us to complete our life’s mission.
They sometimes come to inundate us, invade us, persuade us, causing us to wait for reactions that met our
satisfaction, which catalyzes our motivation and helps us, at times, to reach gratification.

Messages—they come to us in all sort of ways.
So, I have brought you a message with the hope that it will increase your knowledge, as you start
on your way.

I hope you will save it and not delete it, so you can retrieve it if, and when, you need it.

Good afternoon. I count it a privilege and an honor to serve as one of the voices that will bring a message to you as you begin at one of the finest institutions of higher education in this country. There are so many messages that I would like to give you about the journey that you have begun, but because I am limited on time, I asked myself the question, “What message did you, the newest member of our community, need to hear from me today?”

I am the 10th of 11 children, and while my parents are no longer physically with me, the messages that they gave me have served as a beacon in my life, and those messages will live with me forever; for they play over and over in my mind, often assisting me in difficult times. For the next few minutes, I am going to share with you messages that I have received from my parents, mentors, and others whom I respect. For I believe these messages will assist you as you begin to maneuver the terrain of higher education.

Often, when my father and I were alone, he would say to me: You are different, and you will be successful. So that message that he gave to me is the first message that I want to give to you, for you are different and you can be successful here.

How do I know? I have seen what was required of you to be admitted to this great institution, and I know about the thousands of individuals who were turned away because they did not meet your qualifications, their preparation did not meet the expectations, but you did.

You sit today in a seat where some would have given anything to sit in.

You were chosen, preferred, selected, because we needed those who would continue a legacy of greatness.

You have been well prepared. Many of you have been fortunate enough to have parents and family members who have provided you with an incredible foundation, with unwavering support.

Family members or mentors have loved you enough to ensure that you were prepared to sit in the seat that you are sitting in, and with that preparation, you can be more than successful here, you can become a significant member of this community, but you will have to be willing to seize opportunities, which is the second message I will give to you this afternoon.

I.R. Hilliard once said, ‘Opportunities rarely knock, they stand waiting to be recognized, and initially they can appear to be an unfair exchange.’ In every corner of your life there will be positive opportunities waiting for you to grab hold of and use.

You will find many programs and services here that were designed to assist you as you form yourself into the man or woman you choose to become, but you will have to seize them. It is our goal to provide you with opportunities that will educate you as a whole student.

We will provide courses, services, programs, and resources that will attend to you intellectually, physically, culturally, spiritually, globally, and yes, even socially, but it will be up to you to seize these opportunities as you walk down your Pitt Pathway.

‘Opportunities rarely knock, they stand waiting to be recognized and initially they can appear as an unfair exchange.’

It may seem an unfair exchange to go and visit a professor during office hours, to gain assistance in better understanding a subject area. Visiting your professor initially may even appear intimidating, but it is merely an opportunity to increase your understanding.

It may appear as an unfair exchange to invest in relationships with individuals who do not look, dress, believe, or think like you, but if you will take the risk, your life and your mind may become richer because of your understanding of new cultures and different ways of doing and thinking.

It may appear as an unfair exchange to spend your time and energy getting involved in the University by joining an organization, volunteering in the community, or even becoming a student leader, but the connections you will make may become lifelong relationships, and the services that you provide may not only make a difference in others’ lives, but also in your own life.

These connections may even give you the energy to stay in the race, which is the message I will finish with today.

A few years ago a movie came out called Iron Will. The main character was an 18-year-old young man who wanted to go college, but because of his father’s recent death, his dream of going to college—and the family farm—were both in jeopardy. But, he heard about a dog-sled race that, if he won, could gain him enough money to save his family farm and attend college.

He was told he was too young, too inexperienced to participate in the race, but he did not allow others to define his character or ability, and he entered the race anyway; his lead dog was sabotaged by a senior contender, but he didn’t allow that setback to keep him out of the race. He made adjustments and stayed in the race.

He took a shortcut which caused his sled to become damaged, but he had it repaired, and made some sacrifices, and stayed in the race, and of course I am only telling you this story because he won the race, and we believe you can win the race that you have begun.

In the poem ‘Invictus,’ William Ernest Hensley provides a picture of life and its struggle, and he ends the poem with the familiar phase, ‘I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.’ Fate is defined as the ultimate outcome.

The soul comprises one’s intellect, will, and emotions. So, Hensley’s poem reminds us that you and I have the tools of the soul to craft and design the ultimate outcome of our lives’ races. But you will have to be careful to use your iron will to control your emotions during this race.

For there may be times when you don’t feel like going to class, but stay in the race and go anyway. There may be a course that you don’t feel like you can conquer, but stay in the race and use the resources that are available to you.

Seek tutoring; find a peer who has mastered the content and study with them. Some of you may feel that while you are willing to run the race, you are confused about which path to take, which major to select. You should know that we have resources that will help you examine your gifts and talents, and through this examination, you will be better able to determine more than a major, but a life’s direction that can bring you peace and joy

How do you stay in the race? The poet Pauline Greenhill sends this message: ‘Just one step at a time, that’s the only way, keep your goal in mind each and every day.’ When the road is getting rough, you may think you’ve had enough, but we know you are made of the stuff that’ll make you stay.

Messages, they come in all sorts of ways, but this one has come to encourage you, inform you, and remind you of who you are. Uniquely created, designed to succeed, and that’s what we know thus far.

Seize those opportunities; they will help you on your way. Get this message in your head, for it may save you time some day.

We have every confidence that you will stay in this race, and while your graduation date may seem afar, we know that is not the case.

Soon, we alone, with your parents and other loved ones, could be back in this very place, cheering for you as you finish this magnificent race.

Thank you."