Editorial: Positive thinking goes only so far

  • Dartmouth College graduates walk past Dartmouth Hall to line up with other students for commencement in Hanover, N.H., on June 12, 2022. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 6/21/2022 11:14:48 AM
Modified: 6/21/2022 11:14:27 AM

We read with interest the text of NFL star Russell Wilson’s commencement address last Sunday to Dartmouth College’s Class of 2022. His remarks were both witty and inspiring, intended to launch the new graduates into the world on a sea of buoyant optimism. So far as it went, the speech was a rousing success. Yet, we seem to hear a faint voice crying in the wilderness that it didn’t go quite far enough.

“Graduates, I’m not here to tell you every dream is going to come true for you,” Wilson told the crowd of 8,000 graduates and guests gathered on the Green. “But I am here to tell you that every dream is going to come true for someone. And why shouldn’t that someone be you? ...

“If you’ve got that voice in your head saying, ‘Why not you?’ that helps keep you going. And it helps keep you working. Because if you believe all things are possible . . . well, that means you’ve got to put in the work to make it happen. ‘Why not you?’ is a winner’s mentality.”

Certainly, this exhortation could be expected to resonate with graduates leaving Hanover with a Dartmouth degree in hand, itself a certification of talent and brains that invites the bearer to dream big in the presence of great opportunity and profitably ask the question, “Why not me?”

Here’s the thing, though. Dartmouth graduates — all of us really — also have to be prepared for life’s inevitable moments of despair and quiet desperation, when the question we ask ourselves is: “Why me? Why am I being singled out for this suffering?” It’s an age-old question; in a sea of troubles, it takes a resolute character indeed to reply, “Well, why not me?”

Thus we hope the newly minted graduates also understand the underappreciated role that luck plays in success and failure. In recent years, books and academic studies have suggested that plain old luck, good and bad, plays a bigger part in outcomes across a range of fields than has been generally thought. While traits such as talent, drive and perseverance are certainly associated with successful people, they may not be determinative. Equally talented and hard-working people experience failure.

With that in mind, we turn to another figure from the sports world, Jon Horford, brother of the Boston Celtics’ formidable Al. Jon is a candidate in the Democratic primary election for the Michigan House of Representatives in the 77th District. He brings to the campaign table, besides a college and professional basketball career of his own, years of mentoring young people to develop life and entrepreneurship skills and find fulfilling careers.

Jon Horford told The Boston Globe recently that one of the lessons that translates well from basketball to life is that you don’t necessarily get what you want: “I tell kids all the time, ‘Just because you work really hard doesn’t mean you’re going to get what you want. Even if you work harder than people around you, it doesn’t mean you’ll accomplish your goals. But there’s a strength of character gained in going through these trials and by these hardships. How are you going to react? How are you going to go forward? The ability to adapt, keep an open mind, make the best of a situation, regardless of how things turn out, is the beauty in everything. Just embrace it.’ ”

Indeed, this beautiful world has two faces — one of success, one of failure; one of gain and one of loss; one of laughter and one of sorrow. And you never know from one day to the next which one will be turned in your direction.

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