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Taking On the World

We all tend to be lazy — to rely on the things we already do well, rather than challenging ourselves to develop new strengths in areas that come harder.



My first observation is that this schedule looks pretty "soft." I can't be certain. Rule No. 1 is that the value of a course rests 90 percent with the professor, 10 percent with the course title. Still, these aren't courses I associate with academic rigor. They sound suspiciously like courses in which the main requirement is having the right sympathies — with being "politically correct" and all that muck.

And Dee, you don't need that. Your values are strong and righteous. I mean, how many high-school sophomores organize a school chapter of Amnesty International?

Your heart is in the right place. What you lack — if I may be candid — is the intellectual discipline to achieve your vision in the real world.

Consider your hero, Mahatma Gandhi. We envision him as a saintly little man in a dhoti — the apostle of nonviolence. But before he was that, he was a lawyer — a British-educated barrister, admitted to practice before the High Court of Chancery. Gandhi possessed a steel-trap intellect and a command of the language, institutions and attitudes of the people with whom he would later do battle.

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. He studied German systematic theology — in German — and earned a doctorate in that incredibly difficult discipline. No squishy, feel-good courses for him! His training was rigorous at the highest level.

There's a book called "Overcoming Your Strengths" that's worth reading, but the title says it all. We all tend to be lazy — to rely on the things we already do well, rather than challenging ourselves to develop new strengths in areas that come harder.

Which, I suppose, is fine if you want to be a passive spectator in the world — watching genocide in Darfur, civil war in the Congo, and Third World poverty on TV — than shedding a few tears, writing a check to some worthy organization and switching to a sitcom.

But that's not you, Dee. I absolutely believe I will see you on TV one day, working with victims of genocide, poverty and civil war — and addressing congressional committees about what the United States must do to help. I expect you to change the world.

But to do that, you must first prepare yourself. The rich and the powerful of the world — including the people who run our country — are not instinctively interested in helping the poor and oppressed. People like you must command their attention and prove to them that it is in their interest to help.

And that requires that you speak their language — and have the rhetorical and intellectual ability to do battle with their prejudices.

Think of it this way: What, in your whole list of first-year courses, would help you do verbal battle with a roomful of people like, say, Dick Cheney?

I hope I haven't rained on your parade. Let me be clear that there is nothing whatever wrong with any course on your list. But as a package — especially for your first semester of college — they offer a very weak curriculum.

I suspect your college adviser is not prepared for a person with your gifts. She sees a kind, big-hearted black girl from a rural county — not the typical student at her overwhelmingly white, wealthy private college. She does not see you as a champion — a young woman who is preparing herself to do battle for justice at the highest levels — but as a nice girl to be coddled.

Her instinct is to "help" by putting you with other minority students, in courses that aren't too difficult, hoping you will feel comfortable.

With all due respect, she's wrong. I don't believe God chose you to be comfortable — but to make other people uncomfortable. And that requires that you sharpen that mind of yours until it is tough enough and disciplined enough to be a match for your great big heart.

Please consider what I've written — and then talk to your adviser about changing two or three of those "soft" courses for more rigorous fare. Don't change it all — you'll make some interesting friends if you keep, say, African-American History.

But change most of it.

Oh — and keep Karate. That's the sort of thing you need — at the physical and the mental level. Because — never forget — you are preparing for battle.

With deepest respect,

Gray S

Frederick T. ('Rick) Gray Jr. lives at Bermuda Hundred in Chesterfield County, where he consults with students and their parents on finding the "right college."

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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