September 25, 2012

MISSION MATTERS: Some Words to the Wise

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Good morning, I am so excited to be here! As an engineer, I enjoy challenges, so I have one for you this morning. Try to describe what you love most about Saint Louis University in only one word. It's a difficult task. Is it the campus? The people? The Billiken?

Well I took on this challenge myself. I think you can describe Saint Louis University in one word. And I will show you how that single word is the most important thing SLU can offer you, how you can use it and how it will prepare you for the future.

You see, if I had to describe the SLU experience in only one word, I would choose opportunity. College campuses are exciting places that offer plenty of opportunities. But when you place a beautiful campus in the center of a vibrant city, create a mascot called a Billiken, mix in a diverse and passionate student body and build the school on the Jesuit principle of finding God in all things, you are faced with a multitude of exciting opportunities — the kinds of opportunities that can shape your SLU experience.

So how do you navigate such an overwhelming amount of opportunities and make something of them? I have two words for you: show up.

I received this advice from my dad, and like much of the advice he's shared with me, I didn't think much of it. I did not understand what the purpose in showing up was. My parents are with me here today, and this is very tough to say but, Dad, you were right. Thanks for that.

When he told me to show up, he was challenging me. And as I started using this advice, I began to see its value. I attended lectures by noted speakers, took new classes and introduced myself to teachers. Once, after a chemistry class during my first semester, I wanted to ask my professor a question. By the end of our conversation, I had been offered a job as a teacher's assistant for the following year.

What an opportunity! In short — I sought out interesting opportunities and simply showed up. Thanks to my dad's advice, I played soccer with my floor's intramural team, slept in a cardboard box to raise awareness for homelessness and went on a spring break service trip — all during my freshmen year.

Every one of those experiences was memorable on its own, but the really exciting thing is when you begin to see how all of the opportunities you've embraced come together to shape you into a unique person. Once you find the opportunities and show up, you discover how you can make a difference in the world. Let me give you an example.

On a whim, I took a course called Introduction to Global Health. I was the only engineer in the class, and a class with more girls than guys was quite a relief. Throughout the semester, I had the opportunity to learn how public health and engineering were woven together in many ways, and it brought a new perspective to my engineering discipline. I soon discovered how both public health and engineering played roles in Habitat for Humanity, an organization I joined freshmen year after showing up and sleeping in that cardboard box. Now, as I enter my senior year, I will be able to mold all of these experiences into my senior design project — a real world, student-led project with the goal of improving society through civil engineering. You see, by seizing opportunities and then showing up, you learn more about yourself, and begin making a difference.

Opportunity is a great word to describe the SLU experience. But above all else, the people within this community will impact you the most. In each person around you today you will find an opportunity for a teammate, a classmate, or a friend. Embrace your fellow Billikens. They will be by your side as you find opportunities and as you show up, and as you make a difference in the world. Class of 2016: Congratulations and good luck.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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