Prof. Patricia Terry’s address to UW-Green Bay’s 100th graduating class, Dec. 14, 2019.
“Graduates, you may not think you have much in common with the faculty that have challenged you—sometimes way beyond the point of frustration, to questioning if our motives aren’t really just to torment you. However, most of us have one thing in common—family and their expectations; Family that have supported us, loved us, and also occasionally also pushed us to heights of frustration. Even today, I continue to have some entertaining conversations with my family.
Every time he has seen me for the past 20 plus years, my father has told me that I have far exceeded his expectations for me and every time he says this, I have the same response: I may have exceeded your expectations for me, but I have not yet reached mine. I say to you, as you embark on your future, set lofty goals for yourself and never be limited by someone else’s perception of you and your abilities. Don’t ever let anyone but yourself define who you are and what makes you successful. Only you know what your life goals are and only you can know how good is good enough. Never live by anyone else’s standards for you. One thing I wish for you is that you will always like and respect the person you see in the mirror each day. If you live your life in a way that assures you will like the person you are, you will be truly successful. Be warned, though, this is much easier said than done. You will find times when it would be easy to put your head down and follow the crowd or chose not to speak up, even when you know someone needs to. Being the person with the moral courage to speak up or do the right thing, even if it goes against the actions or opinions of those around you, is hard. It may cost you friends; it may not be the best thing for your career. But, if you can have the moral courage to stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences, you will always respect yourself and that is the most important kind of success.
Many years ago, my parents came to watch me compete in a 50 mile ultramarathon. At the end of a grueling day, my father, always ready with a sage comment, stood over me laying on the ground in exhaustion and made the astute observation, “You didn’t win.” Equally ready with the astute reply, I said, “Yes I did. You don’t always have to finish first to win the race. I wanted to know if I had what it took to run 50 miles and now I know the answer is yes. By that standard, I won.” Most of life is analogous to an ultramarathon. You all just finished one by completing a major and earning your degree. You may not have the highest gpa or the highest standing in your major, but you won the race by graduating. In any ultramarathon, there are always one or two or three times when you are no longer having fun and quitting sounds like a good idea. But, if you can focus on the end goal and remember that achieving it is more important than any momentary desire to quit, you will always win. When asked why I do ultramarathons, I use the life analogy.
Life is a series of ultramarathons and many goals require you to keep putting one foot in front of another, ignoring the voice in your head that wants to quit, and persevere even when the race is not that fun anymore. You may even trip and fall and have to get up, dust yourself off, ignore a little blood, and get moving again. That mindset got me through a Ph.D. in engineering, the exhausting process of getting tenure as a new faculty member, and many other long-term goals. The important thing is that you challenge yourself and give every attempt the best you have. You may not always be the fastest, strongest, smartest, or most talented person in any endeavor, but accept the challenge, run the race anyway. Life is a series of ultramarathons. Don’t spend yours on the sidelines watching people you think are better compete. Live life to the fullest, lace on your running shoes, and claim your place at the starting line. Most of the time, you won’t cross the finish line first, but if you join the grand race that is life and live it to its fullest, you are a winner.
I will leave you with a line from one of my favorite songs, “If you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”