SC Governor's School for Science & Mathematics
September 16, 2019
"Leaving home is hard. Being put in an academically challenging environment while reshaping your life as you know it? That's even harder. It is in times of transition where we revisit the foundations of our very being. But, it is in transition where we rediscover what is important, where we remold ourselves, and where we truly grow. Life, in this sense, is about absolutes and paradoxes. We strive to get answers and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible; however, at the same time, we also must learn to accept and deal with certain levels of ambiguity. This is the essence of transition - and this is the essence of the secret of success. Just remember Juniors, as your Seniors will tell you, "This, too, will pass." Or as the modern philosopher, Audrey Drake Graham, once stated, "Sometimes the journey teaches you a lot about the destination."
You heard my bio - all of the positives and the success. But there is a lot that you haven't heard - and a lot that you don't know. I'm getting ready to graduate from Cambridge University, but what if I told you that I may have failed a test or two in Dr. Jones-Cooper's class? On a totally unrelated note, I pulled too many all-nighters trying to cram for exams - if I learned anything in college, it's that sleep is always more important than late night studying, just go to bed! I was elected Student Body President at Clemson my senior year, but what if I told you that I ran for Student Council both my Junior and Senior year, but was never elected? At GSSM, in a conventional sense, I failed in a lot of ways for the first time - you will too. But, failure is important and failure is healthy. In my time, I think I've learned the most from times I've "failed." At the end of the day, success and failure are yours to define - no one else's. And truly, the most important thing is to never stop putting yourself out there and trying for things. The worst thing that can happen? Someone telling you no. But, trust me, a "no" is better than never knowing. I also learned that I can't be the best at everything - you will too. In all honesty, I struggled academically and socially, especially in the first few months.
As I've suggested, in the beginning, you may struggle, too. Being surrounded by such successful and ambitious people every day, you may think you were the mistake in the admissions process or that you got to GSSM by luck or accident or both. It turns out that this is a common phenomenon, especially among driven and intellIgent people. It's called "Imposter's Syndrome" and everyone goes through it. It's real. It's normal. And it's definitely exacerbated by social media in general - it's so unfair to have to compare your season to someone's highlight reel. These are all things society should talk more about...
Seniors - did you feel this way? Juniors - have you felt this way?
Guess what? I did, too. I remember calling my parents weeks after convocation would've happened - telling them I couldn't do this and that I didn't think I was supposed to be here. But I'll never forget what my parent’s told me. "You came to try this. You can always come home, but if you leave GSSM, you can never go back. You'll live with regret if you don't give this your best shot." And they were so right.
I stayed. And that's the best decision I've ever made. In any case, I've learned that every experience is valuable - and that, in fact, sometimes it's just as important to discover what you don't like or want as it is to find what you do. But, GSSM turned out to be an infinitely positive experience that brought out the best in me.
I tell you this all to say that you're not alone in feeling that this is a challenging journey. But nothing good, rewarding, or fulfilling is truly "easy." I tell you this to urge you to share your feelings with each other and to always ask for help if you need it. And, importantly, I share this with you to let you know that in hindsight you'll see that these were some of the most fun and formative years of your life.
In this first time where you'll go back home - this homegoing week - I urge you to think about what home means. Home, in my opinion, isn't just a place, it's a combination of experiences and the people you have them with, too. Governor's School is a community and it will eventually become home. Not because it's the same place you came from, but because of the people that you meet there, that you forge stronger-than-ionic bonds with, and they become family.
Because of the memories you make and the unique traditions of which you partake, like Coffeehouse, Homegoing Week, Midnight Breakfast, Painting Up and Studying at Athletic Events, Senior Wills and Passdowns, Dr. Alison's butter gooey cake, and more. It's these big things - and so many of the small things, like the daily interactions and conversations with the amazing people here, that I reminisce about with my classmates, many of which, like my roommate Josh, have remained lifelong friends.
When Josh and I lived together, we would listen to audiobooks, specifically autobiographies of notable people, like Steve Jobs, to see what we could learn from their lives. We would discuss their life philosophies and try to implement them in our own lives. Once we watched a speech delivered by Jim Rohn where he postulated that "We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with." I still vehemently disagree. It's really the five people that have impacted most - and I know Dr. Godwin will cringe, but, at least in relationships, impact isn't time-dependent! To me, this is empowering. We should look at every interaction as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to connect, and to make a difference in someone's life.
How can we do this? An assignment in Dr. Roy Flanagan's junior English class actually showed me. The personal profile, which I wrote about the facilities manager at GSSM in my time, Mike McConnell, showed me how much you can learn from someone honestly unexpected. I initially planned to write about his day job, but it turned out that he used to own a bar in Hartsville, that the goes on safaris in Africa every couple years because he loves wildlife, and that he loves good Southern cooking almost as much as me. He gave me advice that I still try to live by: "A secret to happiness is to search for something you love and to find five minutes every day to do it."
Mike showed me that everyone has a story and that people have things to teach you. In part, by simply asking good questions - utilizing "why" - and genuinely caring about the answer, you give people the opportunity to challenge your beliefs or to expose you to something totally new. Largely, the questions you ask determine the answer, as well. As it turns out, this is fundamental - and it underpins everything we do. Whether you call it the policy process, cross-examination, casing, AGILE, or the scientific method, it's the same set of steps all involving questioning, answering, revising, and repeating. At the end of the day, fields aren't so different - and modern problems will require unorthodox teams coming up with unique approaches for any outcome deemed "success." People and relationships are the world's - and your own - most important resource. In fact, as the late Paul Kalanithi - the author of When Breath Becomes Air, stated, "Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete."
Thus, don't make the mistake that I've seen many people make on their own quest for success. Never view life as a zero-sum game - and by that, I mean do your best to lift people up. I saw the best in people so often here at GSSM. On your journey, do build relationships, don't build resumes. Do things that you're passionate about and that fulfill you. Don't just do things that seem impressive or that society may say you should do. If you do what you enjoy and bond with people over that, everything will easily follow. Especially meaningful friendships and leadership, which is fostered from a deep yearning and will to see something you love improve. And remember, loving something means recognizing the good and bad in it - and actively doing your part to create positive, sustainable change for the greater good.
My senior quote is a fitting beginning of the end for this speech. Immanuel Kant once stated, "Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for." What I hope for you, Govies, is that you've found these words meaningful and impactful in some respect and that this speech has made you question things. Seniors, best of luck in your last year, especially in applying to college. Be there for the people experiencing what you did last year. Juniors, I hope and know that you will find your niche here. You will find a home here in Hartsville. Govies, in summary, ask meaningful, why-based questions; view interactions as opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference; build relationships, not resumes; get help if you feel you need it; and remember that what is fulfilling and good is never easy. Go away, travel the world, and educate yourself in any way possible, but never forget where you came from. Godspeed - and thank you."
Missed Convocation? Watch it online to hear Joey's speech and see the presentation of academic letters!