University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Freshman Convocation Speech
by Dr. William H. Ross, Jr.
Veteran's Memorial Stadium
Friday, August, 31, 2001
It is fitting that I am speaking to you from a platform located in the middle of a running track, for college is a race.If high school was a series of sprints, college is a long-distance race, such as a steeplechase or a marathon.As you begin your race you may feel a mixture of conflicting emotions:
-Excitement at the thrill of being on your own,
-uncertainty as to whether you will succeed in college,
-concern over what your new roommate will be like,
-and bewilderment at the sight of thousands of other people all doing the same thing that you are doing.
College is a time of great change. I am here to offer you encouragement and a challenge:Encouragement that you can adapt to the changes that college life brings – and even succeed through them.
I offer you a challenge that, in order to succeed, you need to show three characteristics.These are:
-Demonstrating your ability,
-Putting forth effort so that you can Achieve,
-andshowing wise attitudes.
The first requirement of success in college is demonstrating your intellectual ability.You already have this characteristic, but it doesn’t hurt to remind you. If you didn’t have the ability to succeed, you wouldn’t be here today.I am pleased to report that each year for the last 12 years, the entering freshman class has been better than its predecessors.If ACT scores and high school rank mean anything, you are the most able, best qualified group of entering freshmen in the history of this university!
But you are not just “able” when compared to the history of the university.Think about this fact:Less than one percent of the world’s population ever attends college.You are uniquely prepared to become leaders in the world economy!Part of that is an accident of birth – you were born in the United States -- but part of your preparation is due to your parents working to insure that you were adequately prepared for the academic rigor of college.To your parents, I say, “Thank you.”
Second, in order to succeed in college you need an Emphasis on Effort.Effort leads to Achievement.College is one environment where, the more effort you put into something, the better the outcomes.
Let’s get practical:Do you want to know how to improve your grades by at least half a letter grade?The answer is quite simple:Go to class!
In college, unlike high school, no one is going to make you go to class.My experience as a professor has been that the people who make poor grades are those who didn’t go to class very much.
The story was told of one of our former U.S. presidents, (I think, Woodrow Wilson) who, when he was in college, had a friendly rivalry going with another student to see who would make the best grades.
On every test, it seems the other fellow would make better grades.This was very frustrating.Every evening, our hero would study at the library.He would walk home at 10 p.m. every night.He would see his rival’s dorm room in the distance.Every evening at about the same time, the other fellow would turn out the light to go to sleep.
One evening, our hero had a thought,“What if I studied an extra 15 minutes each night?”He started expending an extra 15 minutes worth of effort each night.Now an extra 15 minutes might not seem like much, but when the next round of tests came, our hero had higher grades than his rival in every subject!
If college is compared to a race, Mr. Wilson ran to win.
Thirdly, to succeed in college you need to have desirable attitudes.A lot of advertisers these days encourage people to have “an attitude” – usually a cocky, irreverent, self-centeredness.But you know, that kind of attitude is easy to have.My two year old has that attitude.
Instead why not try having a servant’s heart?You are going to be here for four years and an attitude of service can carry you far.Will UW-L be a better place as a result of your being here?Will the La Crosse community be a better place for you having lived here?Will your new roommate be a better person as a result of living with you?Make a positive difference in other people’s lives!
In addition to having the attitude of service, you need an attitude of discernment.There are some who would seek to use and abuse you, and your parents aren’t here to protect you any longer.
-Some might want your body,
-Some might want to use you for your money,
-Some people might want to use you as an unwitting pawn to further their social and political agenda, often undermining the values that your parents worked so hard to cultivate (and there are such groups on any public college campus).It is ironic that some of the groups that shout the loudest about ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ are the most intolerant of that form of diversity that is most important for an educational institution – the diversity of ideas.
Use wisdom and discernment.Investigate; get the facts.As Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring.”You need an attitude of discernment.
Finally, you need an attitude of excellence.Are you just here to “get by?”Or to be the very best that you can be in your chosen field?Excellence doesn’t just happen – it takes strategic planning.I teach business management and in business, we have a saying, “plan your work, and work your plan.”Approach college strategically.
I have taught numerous students who approached college strategically.Please allow me to mention two students as examples, for both had an attitude of excellence.
One was a young man who became intrigued with problems of conflict at work while taking undergraduate courses here; he eventually got his MBA from UW-L. During his time on campus, he wrote an excellent term paper on the subject of whether Karl Marx’s views of “class” were relevant to labor-management relations in the post-Communist era; he later presented this paper at a national academic conference (the International Association for Conflict Management conference which met in Minneapolis).This student is now completing a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior at a university in Illinois.
The second student was a student majoring in psychology and minoring in business management.She took two of my classes and had outstanding grades on every assignment.She worked on a research project which was subsequently accepted for publication (in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, in press).While a student at UW-L, she was the president of two clubs – one in Psychology and one in Management.Subsequently, she went on and got a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management at Purdue and she competed for – and obtained -- an internship in Boston.She is now working as a Personnel Manager for a large Fortune 500 firm.
The attitude of excellence these students demonstrated pervaded every assignment they undertook.They didn’t just let college “happen.”They approached college strategically and made the most of every educational opportunity that UW-L had to offer.When their undergraduate work at UW-L was complete, they were ready for the job market or for graduate school. They had mastered their skills and they had planned for the future. You want to be like those students.
To do this, let me encourage you to meet with your academic advisor this semester, plan your academic work, and then work your plan.You need to be excellent in all that you do.If college is compared to a race, then run the race to win.
In conclusion, I have discussed three characteristics I feel are critical for your success in college:Ability, Effort leading to Achievement, and holding the proper Attitudes of service, discernment, and excellence.I see these characteristics in many of the students who do well at UW-L.I want to encourage you to develop them too.
Two thousand years ago, these words were written about a life of faith, but I believe this paraphrase also apply to an academic setting:“An now, since we are surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us, leaving aside every weight and anything that so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1-2; the Bible).
The race is about to begin.The starting gun is sounding. Are you ready? Run to win.
Photograph of Veteran's Memorial Stadium by L. L. Lebiecki