President's Message to Students About Optimism
March 7, 2019
Hello Gamecock Students,
Spring break is upon us and I can imagine how excited you are. Not only is a break from the intensity of your studies important, but having a glimpse or two of sunny, warm weather would be so welcome. Mother Nature has shown us plenty of rain and clouds recently, but I'm optimistic that Spring will be better, and that a reunion with our famous South Carolina blue sky is right around the corner.
Sometimes students ask me how I remain so optimistic, even in the face of grand problems such as the tenor of politics, climate change, and so many other worries. I never considered it much, but I do agree that I'm generally optimistic and that being so is a great help to me as I conduct the university's complex business and, of course, my family life. So, I've spent a little time trying to conjure up some advice for you about how to nurture your optimism, especially in difficult circumstances.
First, I'm pretty sure that optimism is not an all or nothing game. Nobody can be optimistic all of the time, including me. But even when my optimism is "missing in action," I don't lose hope. Hope is more emotional and subjective, but I think it's the gateway to optimism. Even in my darkest times, my hope and my faith steer me to believe that things will improve. I draw on something deep within, as well as on my many life experiences when the sun has broken through problematic times.
Don't waste precious time worrying about things no longer in your control.
I know that everything I've said so far is just a concept, and a lot easier said than done. And I also said that I had some actual advice for you-- so here we go. First, accept that life will have ups and downs; nothing can change this. Parents want their children to have unlimited success and happiness and it's very hard for us to see you suffer. Yet, we have seen so many ups and downs and know that few things really keep us down for long. We understand that the Bubonic Plague and the World Wars devastated the world's population, yet humanity prevailed in the end. We remember that the Vietnam War tore American society apart, yet we came together again. Most relevantly, we have recovered from our own periods of suffering, time and time again. Your life has been shorter, of course, and I believe that having this perspective is harder for you. Evidence is provided by surveys reporting that younger generations are almost always less optimistic than older ones. Gen Zers are less optimistic than Millennials, who are less optimistic than Baby Boomers. You will become more resilient and hopeful, year by year...I can almost guarantee that.
Second, take an active approach to life when you feel pessimistic. The doldrums are real but they can be attacked by focusing on the things you have some control over rather than dwelling on those you don't. Don't waste precious time worrying about things no longer in your control. For example, use your time to focus on the next exam, rather than worrying about an exam you wish you could take back.
Next, choose positive people as your friends. My friends' attitudes rub off on me and when we are in the company of positive people, it's absolutely true that our spirits can be lifted, and our outlooks can brighten.
Finally, stay physically active and try to get some daily exercise. Research has shown that your attitude can be enhanced (not to mention your overall health) and your stress and anxiety levels lowered with exercise. Some of you see me at the Blatt PE Center when I arrive at 7 a.m. each morning or whenever I can find time. This is an investment in my attitude. I leave the gym calmer and more optimistic about my life and the day ahead. You may even hear me whistling on the way out!
I send you advice like this not because I want you to think I know a lot of things. In fact, I still have much to learn. I send them because I care so much about you, just like your parents and other loved ones. I truly want you to be happy and I believe that optimism will help you achieve that.
So, as you head off to Spring Break, remain optimistic that the sun you've been craving is going to be with you all week. And if you do happen to see a sky filled with clouds, look right through them. You will see some bright sunshine behind them, as clear as can be if you really look for it. And may this sunshine brighten each and every day of your life.
Forever to Thee,