The following is a graduation speech written by finalist Katie Barnes.
“What is your philosophy?” was a question I got asked regularly when I told people my major. Being trained as a philosopher, I prefer more specific questions so I will rephrase that question into what I assume people have meant, “Why is life worth living?”
Today, I have an answer for you! Happiness. A positive emotional state that one experiences when successful. Before you sign up for one of the yoga classes to get some Zen in your life, let me offer how I find happiness, and I’ll promise I won’t drop any metaphysical bombs on you today.
When I first signed up for classes at SUU, someone offered the advice that I take English and math to get them out of the way. I took partially took their advice and signed up for English.
I was afraid of math and thought if I postponed long enough the problem would somehow resolve itself. For 7 semesters I avoided the math department while I debated if graduation was worth taking a math class and spent hours wallowing in my fear and hesitation. Last semester I decided I needed to at least give math a try, and if I failed than I would be no worse off than I currently was.
Thus, I spent Christmas break on Khan Academy reviewing math and with the help of an inspiring friend, I changed my paradigm about math. Math is fun. Even though I had updated my paradigm with the new and relative information I still spent the first few weeks of class trying not to slip into my past fears dealing with math. Now the semester has finished and math has become a hobby and a love.
I want to now show you how my adventure with math is similar to how one could work on being happy.
First, view difficult situations as adventures that are waiting for you. Applying to graduate school, dealing with student loans, searching for the perfect job, or planning your life in general is overwhelming and can be frustrating. Stop viewing it as a trial, but like a blank map waiting for you to begin, or your favorite puzzle waiting to be solved!
Second, adjust your beliefs to new and relevant data instead of continuing to make decisions on limited information. If I had continued on hating math, I would have spent this semester being miserable every time I did math homework, took a math test, or went to class. That’s over 150 hours I could have chosen to be unhappy had I not updated my paradigm with the new experiences. If I had chosen to continue hating math, I would have been satisfied with just passing the class instead of pushing myself to understanding the formulas. We have all obviously learned something if we managed to get here today, even if that something was the ability to work under the pressure that comes from procrastination or the wonderful process of elimination on a multiple choice test. We have learned how to function in an environment that can be very stressful, and if we are lucky we have learned how to be happy while doing so. But the learning and updating of our paradigms are not over yet; we shouldn’t stop growing when we receive these beautiful diplomas. I am not saying that one needs to change their beliefs by every article one read in the future, but use the rational decision making skills we have learned here at Southern Utah University to filter and update our paradigms.
Third, try not to slip into old habits. Those first few weeks of math I had to make a conscious effort not to be negative or to think like I previously had about math. I had to make sure the changes I had made were ones that would stay in tact under trial and stress. Now that we are graduating we need to make a conscious and continuous decision to not return to who we were before our time here. We came here for change, we came for knowledge, we came to have the potential of being more successful, we came to achieve more happiness. We should not waste these past years by returning to who we were before. When we feel ourselves slipping back into old habits, or wasting time, we should read a little Plutarch, write a paper existentialism, or listen to a podcast.
Shortly we will be entering the working world where competition is steep and problems are hard. We have been trained how to work hard here at Southern Utah University, and shortly we will be needing to apply that training in a work setting. Again soon we will be taking good notes in graduate school or in work meetings, we will be staying up late finishing an assignment or task so it will be perfect in the morning, and we will be applying ourselves with hard work and dedication. That leads me to the final key to happiness I learned in math.
My success in a trying situation didn’t come from being a genius at math; it came from hard work and dedication. At the start of the semester my classmates talked about how easy the first few chapters were, while I felt like sometimes I could barley keep my head above the water. Taking good notes in class, late night studying, and many practice tests taught me that if I put in the work I would see the results I wanted. Sometimes I studied hard only to fail a chapter test, but I took that failure to mean I needed to work harder and needed to understand the workings on that chapter better. And so with dedication and determination I studied, and aced the midterm that included the problematic chapters. Someday when we are comfortable in our lives, something hard will happen, perhaps we will lose a job or experience an extreme change. At that dark and foreign moment we need to remember that we didn’t come by our previous happiness by being born into it, we achieved it by hard work and dedication. We put in the time to become comfortable where we were at. We had stayed dedicated to the task we had achieved. And if we could achieve such happiness before, with similar hard work what will stop us from achieving it now?
Today is the start of a new era in our lives. Those of us who are graduating will have more opportunities to change up ahead of us, but we all have the opportunity to transform paradigms and set fresh goals. Change can be scary and hard, but unless we attempt change for the better we will be continually choosing to be less happy than we potentially could be. As we change and grow into a more happy and successful people, we will need to remember who we are and where we came from. Who we were doesn’t necessarily determine who we are, but it does provide an anchor of comfort as we progress.
And thus, I challenge us all to remember to combine our memories here with our current progress. I’ll remember the Taco Tuesdays at future awkward family dinners, or winning at bingo when I’m at a raffle where the odds are extremely against me. When I am frustrated that no one seems to be reading the papers I submit for publishing, I’ll remember when I had amazing professors who were paid to read my work. I’ll recall the spectacular foreign film festivals and perhaps browse the international film category on Netflix. When I am stressed I’ll remember late nights at the astronomy lab, and instead of watching a foreign film, I’ll take the night to go up the mountain and watch the stars progress. I’ll remember the study groups where sometimes more laughter than studying occurred, and remind myself to take time to laugh. And from these memories I will gain the strength to choose to be happy.
And that friends, is my philosophy.
Cheers to us, Southern Utah University’s Graduating Class of 2016
Katie Barnes chose philosophy for her major because it was the hardest class she took while doing generals. Her love for wisdom has grown with every class, and now she writes philosophy papers and does logic puzzles for fun. Katie also enjoys to travel (19 countries, five continents so far), hike, ski, read, study math, and practice talking in Spanish. Katie is from Dubois Wyoming, and selected Southern Utah University because of its location and nearby parks.