2016 Mid Year Address
In ‘Inherit the Wind’ (1960), a brilliant film about the contentious issues surrounding the scientific authority of the bible, defence lawyer, Henry Drummond, when questioning the prosecuting lawyer, the Reverend Matthew Brady, points out that the ability to think is the one faculty of human beings that raises them above the other creatures of the earth. The power of their brains to reason sets them apart. Drummond asks, “What other merit have we? The elephant is larger; the horse is swifter and stronger; the butterfly is far more beautiful; the mosquito is more prolific. Even the simple sponge is more durable” (Inherit The Wind, 1960).
Besides setting humanity aside from other creatures, this ability to think is also the hallmark of a good university education. Universities provide opportunities for personal growth, enabling students to think independently and analytically. They learn to absorb new information and apply this knowledge to new problems, to think critically and to direct that thought to action and achievement (Marr, 2016).
In our culture, there is an expectation that University students have the intelligence, abilities, and the potential to develop into future leaders in society. It is therefore important that they make the most of their opportunities and be the best they can in their fields of study, whatever that might be.
Not long into term one and the first round of the college’s academic panels for first year students were arranged. These panels consist of former Aquinas students who come from a variety of careers and who are keen to share their wisdom and offer advice. During their interviews, our 68 freshers were asked to talk about their courses, the reason for their choices, and how they were coping with the adjustment from secondary school. Many students recognised the major challenges that faced them. At university, they are more personally accountable and responsible for their own work, routines, and achievements. The support structures that are so evident in most secondary schools are not so obvious in a tertiary environment. Many spoke about how they appreciate their tutors at our college, the help of fellow students, and the mentors that are available at the universities. The panel members encouraged the students to set goals for themselves and to persist in achieving these goals.
Our 81 second year students went through a similar interview process early in the second term. It is pleasing to note that almost all of them have settled into their courses well and are focussing on defining their career aspirations. They are developing skills and knowledge that will help them in the future; and they are thinking through the options. Besides their academic pursuits, quite a number of these students have taken on responsibilities within the college community as Student Club members, while a lot of them have secured part-time work to supplement their income. It is quite evident that local employers see in them the characteristics that they want of good employees; honesty, punctuality, self-assurance, resilience, creative problem solving, and the ability to get along with others and to contribute to their well-being. They are also learning to be organisers within the local and Aquinas communities, as they meet and interact with people from different backgrounds. Their roles in arranging social activities and the College’s participation in the High Table Cup require a lot of work, commitment and generosity, as they balance their various responsibilities.
At Aquinas, we rely on our second year students and our seniors to help the new members of the community settle in and guide them with their studies and aspirations. Ten of our seniors at Aquinas have the added responsibility of being House Coordinators, while another 26 students are academic tutors – all important positions in the management of the College. Furthermore, there are other positive outcomes of studying at University and living at Aquinas. The formation of life-long friendships, socialising and networking are qualities that will sustain them as they face complex and difficult challenges ahead.
Drummond’s (1960) exhortation that the ability to think is what sets us apart from other creatures relates to all aspects of our lives. It underpins our behaviours, our language, our decisions and our goal setting. It helps us to accept responsibility for our actions and to size up situations.
Henry Drummond,Movie Speech, “Inherit the Wind” (1960)
Marr, J.J “An Educator’s Influence”
America, May 9, 2016
America Press Inc. New York p.26