Life is about choices. What choices have you made?
A few years ago, student body president Joel Zylstra addressed the incoming freshman class at Fall Convocation. His timeless reflection on the meaning of success captures the unique culture of Pacific Lutheran University and the life-changing experiences that students encounter here. I was a camp counselor a while back for 5 to 8 year-olds. One night, after lots of games and activities, we were talking before I tucked them in to their beds. For some reason, I got this crazy idea to ask these little kids what they thought it meant to be successful or to have a good life. I don’t know what I was thinking to ask this of kids who could barely read and write, but I did.
We went around the circle and these were the responses:
To have money, to have a good job, to not have to listen to anyone else, to be smart, to have lots of friends, to be able to be the best, to be like Bill Gates and to not go to jail. Well according to most of these kids, I am a failure and so is 99.9 percent of the rest of the world. No one here wants to be a failure. Well, what really makes one successful? Is it money? Fame? Is it winning gold medals in Athens? How about having your name in the “Guinness Book of World Records?”
This summer, I went hiking with a child psychologist who gave me a really simple definition of success, and to be honest with you, I kind of like it. He said that a successful child is one who contributes positively to the social and moral fabric of society – successfully contributes to society.
Well … how in the world does one become successful? I think we’ve all heard the saying “Life is about choices” and you know what? I think there is some truth to that statement. Life was certainly about choices for Michael Jordan when he decided to continue keep practicing basketball after he got cut from the freshman and sophomore team in high school. I’m guessing that life was about choices when the owner of Pepsi went bankrupt for the third time before making it big, and it surely was about choices for Clint Eastwood when an executive from Universal Pictures told him that “his future wasn’t very promising because of a chip in his tooth and because his Adam’s Apple stuck out too much.”
What about you? What choices have you made in your life that will allow you to successfully contribute to society? What are you going to do now that you are on your own, away from home, that is going to make you successful? Well, let me fill you in on a little something that I’ve learned over the past three years.
PLU has what you need to be successful or to contribute to the social and moral fabric of this world. We have some of the best faculty members in the nation taking the time to make sure that you are well equipped to face the complex world we live in. We have one of the best international studies programs that allows students to see that there are 6.3 billion people in this world, most of whom are not on the Atkins diet, who are not watching an average of four hours of TV per day and who are not oooohing and awing over Kobe Bryant’s behavior off the basketball court.
We have an administration that actually thinks about students and how to serve them well. We have music, drama, art, sports, 60 clubs and organizations to get involved in, worship services, lectures, concerts and all kinds of events where you can meet people, where you can be challenged and where you can share your gifts with others. I’m not saying this place is perfect, but the one thing I can promise is that this place has so much to offer. By coming to PLU, you have opened a door to a world of choices. You have found an entrance of opportunity toward success. Your life will never be the same: the people you meet, the choices you make and the concepts you will learn. You will never be the same.
You’re going to become familiar with something called the Wild Hope project that encourages students to explore their vocation. The name comes from a question poet Mary Oliver posed in “The Summer Day” that I think we all need to ask ourselves: “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Wild and precious. Think about it. Life is wild – thunderstorms, war, grizzly bears, heavy metal, the 14,400-foot volcano behind us that claims the lives of experienced climbers every year, wild animals, wild flowers, wildfires. But life is precious too: the intricacy of the rhododendrons all over campus, the gift of love, the fingers of a newborn baby, a smile, a tear, an artist’s stroke of a brush.
And here you are … right in the thick of things. You are the one who has the choice to take this time at PLU, and prepare yourself for a life of success, a life of contributions to the world we live in. If you’re here today thinking you’ve got your life together, and you’re invincible and PLU has nothing to offer you, good luck.
But even more importantly, if you are here today ready to embrace what these upcoming years have to offer, ready to make choices that will positively affect your future, you’ve got something to look forward to — not only a great college experience, but also a lifelong adventure of success. I know where I began three years ago and I know where I am now. PLU is a great place folks. It has the ability to make you successful, to positively contribute to society. It’s wild. It’s precious and you will never be the same.
I wish you all the best in this upcoming year.
– Joel Zylstra ’05