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Frederick J Antczak, GVSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean
2016 Opening Ceremony Speech, delivered at the Michigan Science Olympiad Region 12 Tournament, March 19, 2016
Every year I ask the same question: “Is there a scientist in the house?” and every year you give me the same happy answer. This year I’m going to have a few more questions for you, but first let me make some acknowledgements.
OK. This year, I have a few more questions to ask you:
Why NOT? Why not YOU? Science doesn’t care if you’re big or little, tall or short. Science doesn’t care what gender or race or religion you are. Science doesn’t mind if you have braces on your teeth, like I had, or a tremor in your voice, like I have; there are times when I feel like I disliked the braces less, but science never seems to mind. Science doesn’t mind if you drive a wheel chair, like Stephen Hawking has. Science doesn’t mind if you’re from a less affluent background. You’re welcome here—c’mon in.
Anyone can make a breakthrough if you work hard enough, if you can be a good part of a team, if you can pay relentless attention to detail, if you can ask “why?” when it’s an awkward question. Here’s how President Obama put it:
“. . . young scientists and engineers teach us something beyond the specific topics that they’re exploring. They teach us how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better. And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine -- and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new.
“That’s why we love science. It’s more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world, and to share this accumulated knowledge. It’s a mindset that says we that can use reason and logic and honest inquiry to reach new conclusions and solve big problems. And that’s what we are celebrating here today.”
Now we all know that not everyone in this room can be the first one to cure pediatric cancer or program a car that can safely drive itself (even in Michigan winters). But being a Science Olympian can do one more thing, and it can do it for anybody here. And it’s something so important that, in 10 or 25 years, you could be looking back on today and thinking that this was one of the turning point days of your life.
I’m not talking about winning today. It’s something WAY more important than that. In your future, each person in this room is going to make choices for himself or herself, choices only you can make, the outcome of which will determine whether you live a happy & productive life: What shall I do for a living? Which groups do I want to commit my efforts to? Which friends make me a better me? How do I know whether to commit to a particular special person? Hard choices. No short cuts.
And believe it or not, your experiences as a Science Olympian can help you make those decisions. If you’ve really committed yourself to your event today, you know the feeling of caring passionately about details. (those people who say “don’t sweat the little things” are lying to you. Only if you sweat the little things, ALL of them, compulsively, can you meet the big challenges with poise and confidence).
You already know how this manifests itself. If you’re really committed, your room may be a mess, your shirt may be buttoned on the wrong button hole, but when it comes to your event, you’re totally, obsessively ON it—without any thought of short cuts. Today is different. You’re in command of something. And it’s on you. Notice that you’re in that state NOT because someone told you to do it, not because it carries rewards or attention, but because you found something in it that compels your best efforts, that evokes a better you than you thought yourself capable of. Let me hear you: Who here is ready to take their absolute best shot today?
OK! Now, imagine a life that sustains that feeling. Imagine a life that can fling you out of bed on a Monday morning, keep you up at night, totally engrossed in thinking about how to do better than what you ever thought your best was. And whether it’s commitment to a person or a community or a vocation, that’s what happiness feels like. It’s not always comfortable or easy—you’re going to be anxious, because you’ve found something to which you want to hold yourself accountable. And there ARE no short cuts to happiness—the only way is straight through those challenges.
Someday you’ll make choices and commitments that will determine your chances to be happy. And I KNOW that in this room, there are people who’ll make better choices because of all the commitment that brings you to this Olympiad. So I want you to try your hardest today.
But in one sense, it doesn’t matter whether you go home with a medal, or just the pride of doing your best: I want you to take home this idea: you can do this. You are a human being capable of this intensity of commitment. You can become a scientist, and you can be the one to accomplish any of those great things I mentioned, and more besides—so many more that we can’t even imagine them all today. If you remember what made you an Olympian today, you can have a life full of sleepless, sweaty, life-grabbing moments when you’re completely involved in what you’re doing.
It’s going to take determination & hard work & smarts to live a happy life. It will take integrity—as you’ve already learned, there are no short cuts!—and it will take the willingness to say a few thank yous. But in the end… why not you?