This past weekend, as Michael Phelps swam into Olympic history and some remarkable older women (aged 33, 38 and 41 — winning silver in gymnastics vault, gold in the marathon, and silver in 50 meter swimming) proved that staying in shape does matter later in life (note to self: increase pool time!) — as all of that was happening, we welcomed new first year students moving into their new home in Cuvilly Hall; we also welcomed more than 100 new undergraduate and graduate women and men into the School of Professional Studies. Along with greeting our new students and their families, I also spent the last few evenings reading our first year student application essays while keeping one eye glued to the Beijing Olympic games.
What does 41 year-old Dara Torres’ collection of swimming medals at these games have to do with Trinity’s new students? (That’s Torres second from right in the photo above, from the New York Times…) Can we find any lesson in Michael Phelps’ achievement of eight gold medals?
Trinity’s new students have dreams of Olympic proportions for their own lifetime achievements. Whether starting the MBA program or hoping to complete a long-deferred undergraduate degree at mid-life, or leaving home for the first time at age 18 or 19 and taking up residence in Cuvilly, or embarking on collegiate life while living at home or in her own apartment off-campus and juggling family and work responsibilities, every Trinity student comes here in order to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to turn those dreams into reality.
We know from watching champion athletes and hearing their stories that they just didn’t get to the medal platforms through natural talent alone, or through luck. Preparation, training, practice, study, sacrifice — extremely grueling workouts day after day, disciplined regimens for sleeping and eating, restrictions on recreational time in favor of more training — these are the necessary ingredients for an Olympic medal.
Having a great goal also means having the willpower to make hard choices along the way. For so many Trinity students, the first hard choice has already earned some glory — the choice to go to college, to set aside other life demands in order to make time to study and to learn. For virtually every student here, this hard choice is also about making a financial sacrifice in order to invest in a college degree that will return that investment many times over in the future.
Persistence over time is also a great Olympic virtue. Oksana Chusovitina of Germany won the silver medal in the gymnastic vault at age 33 — during an Olympics when the hint of gymnastic scandal around the Chinese women questioned whether their gymnasts were at least age 16. It’s almost unheard of to see a gymnast older than 19 or 20. So, a 33 year-old medalist is surely a testament to persistence!
38 year-old Constanina Tomescu of Romania won the women’s marathon. I’m sure that many of our students, especially those in the School of Professional Studies and School of Education can relate to the persistence, determination and drive required to win a gold medal in the marathon at age 38.
How can such Olympic stories help Trinity students? The lessons are obvious — to achieve those dreams of Olympic proportions, have Olympic drive, discipline and dedication to being the best. Swifter, faster, stronger — whether studying history or swimming the 400 medley, conquering a calculus problem or doing a triple twist in midair, the winners are those who never give up, who work hard with great focus every single day.