Friday, March 28, 2014

Books that Changed my Life

"Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, from Mr. Willy Wonka! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory and be my guest for one whole day - you and all others who are lucky enough to find my Golden Tickets. I, Willy Wonka, will conduct you around the factory myself showing you everything that there is to see, and afterwards, when it is time to leave, you will be escorted home by a procession of large trucks. These trucks, I can promise you, will be loaded with enough delicious eatables to last you and your entire household for many years. If, at any time thereafter, you should run out of supplies, you have only to come back to the factory and show this Golden Ticket, and I shall be happy to refill your cupboard with whatever you want."
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.” 
-Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

A Book that Changed Your Life…
Preparing for this speech, I found it hard to think about just one book that had an impact in my life. I wracked my brain through my favorites; Stephen King’s It, the Harry Potter series, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, even the ever-beloved Little House on the Prairie collection. They range in genre, indeed.

I thought no, these won’t do.  Because all books I have read have had some impact on my life, one way or another. Whether it was the Bible to senior year’s AP reading requirements to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When I was little, I literally gobbled up books as if they were a McDonalds’ Happy Meal. Books were a smorgasboard of other worlds, other lives, other experiences. It provided a whole new perspective from the authors’ point of view. As a farm girl from a small town in Central New York, these imaginative texts and written words were able to deliver me to worlds that my parents couldn’t afford to take me to. I was in awe of any book that I picked up - whether it was fiction or biography, it transported me to the world that the author imagined to be true or real or worth talking about. To me, that was impactful.

I remember being under my covers at night with a flashlight when I was little – I was one of those kids that read deep into the night trying to be quiet while I turned the pages. I read books over and over again, just to relive the thrill of whatever was happening to the main character. For example, for those of you who read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, remember the feeling you had when he tore open the corner of that chocolate bar, and experiencing with him that first glimpse of glorious gold, that flash of metallic loveliness that made him rip the rest of the wrapper off in a matter of a second. Do you remember how many times you might have re-read that paragraph just to cheer for him all over again? I do.  I read it many times over. Or Charlotte’s Web, when the words “SOME PIG” appeared in the cobwebs that summer morning? The thrill you had when Wilbur stood proudly in front of the crowds, escaping the hand of the butcher, thanks to his good friend Charlotte? Or when Charlotte was dying and you may have found yourself crying right along with Wilbur? Even as a child the range of emotions books brought up within me was enough for me to read them over and over again. THAT, my friends, is impact. That is enough for you to go and take out all the books that Roald Dahl or EB White had ever written –  just to read more. (I Love the feature on my Kindle that recommends books for me --- it’s a never-ending list).

I still read books with the same fervor today, even when I was doing a dissertation and had to master the art of “skimming” through thousands of books and articles. That skimming never felt right to me, by the way. I was afraid I was going to miss out on parts of the book that would bring it all together. But they still are an opportunity to escape, to learn, to engage. To me, it brings all that life has to offer to words on a page.

Here are some facts:
14% percent of American adults are illiterate, that’s 32 million people in our country.
However, there are 774 million people in the world that are illiterate. 
66% of the worlds’ illiterate population is female.

I am extremely privileged that I can read, that I am in a place where books can make an impact on my life and my world; to make me think differently about a topic, make me think about my work and life differently…to me, these statistics alone are an impact. I would not be where I am today without a good book – it is hard to measure an impact of one book when there are so many still left to read. And here is where I equate reading to living life --- which was another question I was posed today– what life experience made an impact on you? Many – and I’m sure that there are many more to come that will make a larger impact. Which is why I write about my life experiences – I write because I’m captured by the magical effect that reading had on me. And I want to do that for others.  I asked for volunteers to “read with enthusiasm!” in the beginning…my first grade teacher encouraged us to do the same. We made sure to emphasis on areas of sentences and paragraphs that made sense – we made our reading come alive. I’m telling you to do both – read and live with enthusiasm.

One of my favorite things to do is to curl up with a good book and escape what ever might be going on that day.  A lot of people, I’m sure, like to read for the opportunity to escape. We all need to do that once in awhile; but there are also books that keep us grounded and ever present in our life and to gobble up those life experiences around us as if they were words themselves. I encourage you all to go home – pick up your favorite book, and read it again. And remember the ways and reasons of why you loved it. And then share it with me --- I’ll add it to my list.

Leah Flynn Gallant
Assistant Dean and Director for Student Leadership and Engagement

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Left Overs

Laying the foundation:
When I was just a boy about five years old, my mother – we called her Muemera.  I don't know why, but we did (I guess we all had a nick name of some sort as we were growing up) – my mother would have many of her friends gather at our house, and she would always, not ask, but tell, me to stand up and tell them what you're going to be when you grow up.  I would always do as I was told - stand up and say, "I'm going to be a doctor when I grow up."  Mind you, she had already decided and told them that I was going to be a doctor.
I also remember our family having barely enough to get by…I’ve never seen French fries prepared so many different ways.  One day we’d have French fries, the next day they turn into hash browns and the next day, we’d have mashed potatoes.  She would always be the last one to eat…if there was enough left for her to eat.  I didn’t know that until later on in life when I was trying to raise my own young family. Then I begin to think of us as human beings in society, as social leftovers.  If it were not for leftovers, I wouldn’t be standing here this morning speaking with you all.  I thank god for leftovers…they’re not too bad, even if I have to say so myself.  The late Dr. W.A. McMillan would always say and I quote – “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us --- so it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us”.
Well, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on all the life lessons she taught me and my siblings, and how she inspired us all.  Much of what was inspired by her teachings came to light when I joined the Boy Scouts:    
As a Boy Scout, I learned the Boy Scout Oath/Promise:
On my honor, I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; 
To help other people at all times; 
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
The Oath has traditionally been considered to have three promises. They are delineated by the semicolons in the Oath, which divide it into three clauses. The promises of the oath are, therefore:
       Duty to God and country,
       Duty to other people, and
       Duty to self
DUTY TO GOD AND COUNTRY: Your family and religious leaders teach you to know and serve God. By following these teachings, you do your duty to God.
Men and women of the past worked to make America great, and many gave their lives for their country. By being a good family member and a good citizen, by working for your country's good and obeying its laws, you do your duty to your country. Obeying the Scout Law means living by its 12 points.
DUTY TO OTHER PEOPLE: Many people need help. A cheery smile and a helping hand make life easier for others. By doing a Good Turn daily and helping when you're needed, you prove yourself a Scout and do your part to make this a better world.
DUTY TO SELF: Keeping yourself physically strong means taking care of your body. Eat the right foods and build your strength. 
Staying mentally awake means learn all you can, be curious, and ask questions.
Morally straight means to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.
Boy Scout Law
A Scout is:
       and Reverent.
Boy Scout Motto
Be Prepared! 
Boy Scout Slogan
Do a Good Turn Daily!
The Outdoor Code
As an American, I will do my best to -
       Be clean in my outdoor manners
       Be careful with fire
       Be considerate in the outdoors, and
       Be conservation minded.

What inspired me after all these years is that my mother, Willette, was a Boy Scout and I didn’t even know it!  A Boy Scout is simply doing all the right things for all the right reasons.  She can be summed up in one of my favorite poems:

Live Your Creed Written by Langston Hughes
I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.
I'd rather one should walk with me than just to show the way.
The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear.
Advice may be misleading but, examples are always clear.
And the very best of teacher are the ones who live their creed,
to see good put into action is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn to do it, if you'll let me see it done.
I can watch your hand in motion but, your tongue to fast may run.
I can soon learn to do it if you'll let me see it done.
I can watch your hand in motion but, your tongue may run.
And the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true but, 
I'd rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the fine advice you give but,
there is no misunderstanding of how you act and how you live.

I’ve been at MIT for 19 years and I’ve learned that we have plenty of leftovers among our community.  I now understand leftovers are part of the very fabric that makes MIT special. 

“Thank God for leftovers”!

Larry Anderson
Associate Professor
Head Coach, Basketball