Amy Grover’s closing remarks.
John Bapst begins each school semester with a Convocation. We were all inspired by this year’s second semester convocation speaker, social science faculty member, Amy Grover. Find her speech below.
Convocation, January 2018
Thank you Mr. MacKay. I would especially like to thank Mr. MacKay for waiting until AFTER the holiday break to ask me to do this. It decreased the amount of time I had to devote to stress and worry by weeks.
Hi everyone. Before I begin I would like to introduce you all to someone. Mom, can you stand up? John Bapst Memorial High School, this is my mom, Kathryn. Mom, this is John Bapst Memorial High School. Ok, thanks Mom, you can sit down.
So, my mother is one of those moms who attended every sporting event, band concert and ballet performance in which I participated. Many of you probably have parents like this as well. I have some bad news for you all. Apparently you will NEVER be too old for your parents to come to your stuff and embarrass you! Thanks, Mom!
Ok, so let’s get started. Good morning everyone and welcome to second semester. Though not the beginning of the school year, the start of the second semester is a new beginning of sorts. For many of you, it brings new courses, and for all of us it brings the opportunity to start with a clean slate.
For those of you who have taken my classes before, it will come as no surprise to you that I am going to talk today about something I heard on NPR. If you have not heard of NPR, it stands for National Public Radio, and I frequently use it as a teaching tool in my classes.
Even if you have not heard of NPR, you have probably heard of TED Talks. TED Talks are short and powerful talks given by people who are usually experts in their fields. On Saturday afternoons, NPR broadcasts the TED Radio Hour. A solid hour of TED talks. You can only imagine my excitement.
I have to admit, my NPR listening has become a bit excessive this year. My partner Mike and I bought a house in the fall that we are in the process of renovating. What that means is that most weeknights and weekends we are in the house, demolishing, building, sanding and painting. And listening to NPR. Hours and hours of NPR…
I want to tell you today about a TED talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth. I am going to quickly summarize her talk for you. Angela Lee Duckworth was a management consultant who quit her job to become a 7th grade math teacher in the New York City public school system. As she taught she began to notice that inherent intelligence and talent were not the only things that distinguished her high performing students from her lower performing students.
She was so fascinated by the factors that affected her students’ success that she went on to graduate school and became a psychologist. And what did she study? Children and adults in challenging situations. In any given situation, she was interested in who was successful and why. She went to West Point and talked with cadets, she went to the National Spelling Bee and talked with the contestants, she talked with new teachers working in inner city schools.
What she discovered was that kids and adults were not necessarily successful because of their IQs, or their good looks, their physical health or their backgrounds. What she discovered was that there was one characteristic that was a significant predictor of success.
She calls that characteristic grit. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, grit is having passion and perseverance. It is having stamina and sticking to long term goals. To quote her, “It is living life like a marathon, not like a sprint.”
At the end of her talk, Duckworth says that parents ask her how they can teach their children to be gritty. She doesn’t claim to have an answer, but she does talk about something she calls a “growth mindset”. The belief that the ability to learn is not fixed. That it can change with effort. So the good news is you can learn grit and you can expand your grittiness.
That’s Angela Lee Duckworth, and that’s her story.
I want next to talk about our grit. Your grit and my grit. I love Angela Lee Duckworth’s definition of grit, but I want to expand it. I think grit is also about being tough and challenging yourself. And grit to me does not have to be about academics or even success on a grand scale. Yes, you can apply this concept of grit to your academics, but you can also apply it to your extracurricular activities, your job, a summer internship, getting through a particularly difficult novel. You get the idea.
I don’t think everyone’s grit has to be the same. Let’s take camping as an example. There are many ways to camp. You can camp in a Winnebago camper, a pop up camper, a tent. You can camp at an RV park, in a campground, in the wilderness. Mike and I are wilderness campers. We bring a tent and food and that’s it. Everything else we either find in the woods or we go without. Mrs. Babcock and her family have a camper. Do Mrs. Babcock and I have different preferences for camping? Probably. Am I grittier than Mrs. Babcock? Nope. We’re both leaving the comforts of home and looking for challenge and adventure. Mrs. Babcock might be grittier than me, actually. I go camping with one adult. She brings two young kids!
The grittiest thing I have ever done is join the Peace Corps. For two years, I lived in a small village in Guinea, West Africa without electricity or running water. I lived in a cement house with bars on the windows. I had a pit latrine. The nearest water source was over a mile away. My love of wilderness camping probably makes sense to you at this point… I was the only foreigner in my village and my nearest Peace Corps neighbor was twenty miles away.
I’ve got a few photos here so you can get an idea of what my life was like.
When I decided to join the Peace Corps I wasn’t thinking about the concept of grit, but I was thinking about doing something hard. I was thinking about challenging myself. I was thinking about getting out of my comfort zone.
I think that Angela Lee Duckworth would probably say that Peace Corps volunteers are gritty people. But not because the life of a Peace Corps volunteer is hard. I think she would say we are gritty because we stick to it. Two years is a long time. You miss holidays, births, deaths, weddings and funerals. That is definitely the marathon and not the sprint.
Is the Peace Corps for everyone? Definitely not. Are Peace Corps volunteers super gritty? Maybe, maybe not. I only use it as an example of how I challenged myself. At this, the beginning of the second semester, I would like you to challenge yourself in some way. I would like you to try on a little grit. I would like you to do something outside your comfort zone and I would like you to stick to it. Will it be hard? Probably. Will it be scary? It might. But trust me, it will also show you your own strength, boost your confidence and increase your ability to rely on yourself. And if in the end it also makes you a super successful human, so much the better!
Second semester has begun. Get gritty and get out there. Be amazing.