Stephen Keeler

Today’s Boston Globe Editorials (thanks Mom) preluded the pending deluge of university students into Boston with an admonishment about failure. To learn it and to experience it. A common theme for end of year commencement addresses (Jobs, Obama, O’Brien, Rowling), the Globe is putting the lesson right up front…

“News that mortals can fail and emerge stronger will no doubt come as a shock to the 1,661 students who recently descended on Cambridge as members of this year’s freshman class. They represent a mere 6 percent of applicants, making it the most competitive class ever. ‘We want to make sure Harvard hubris is only a stereotype and not a reality,’ joked Fitzsimmons. But in helping its students learn how to fail, Harvard is doing them a great favour.”

“Perfectionism carried to an extreme is not a strength. It becomes debilitating and hinders full potential,’’ explains Harvard Admissions Dean William Fitzsimmons, who for three decades has been urging accepted Harvard students to delay college for a ‘gap year’’ to work, travel, volunteer, or do something besides compete and achieve. But most turn him down.”

My best friend and Harvard roommate, Stephen Keeler, shared the same dream of taking a ‘gap’ year and venturing out into the world…he to Germany and me to Togo, West Africa. The adventure transformed the trajectory of my life. It sowed the seeds for my eventual life abroad as well as my writing (I worked as an Overseas Press Correspondent) practiced here as well as even more similarly on Maldives Complete. Coincidentally, Stephen and his wife Angela made a special trip to join me for a birthday celebration this weekend capped off by a dinner tonight with other classmates.

“Teaching students how to fail is not something we expect from Harvard University as it prepares to celebrate its 375th year. But the university deserves praise for creating a new initiative on failure, rejection, and resilience…So last spring the university issued an invitation to a panel discussion in Harvard Yard, beginning, ‘At some point in your life you will experience rejection…’ Called ‘Reflections on Rejections: An Exploration of Resilience in the Face of Failure,’’ the panel drew a large crowd. It also elicited more than a few Oprah-style confessions about personal failure and its role in creating more compassionate human beings. Based on the panel’s popularity, similar events are planned on campus this year.”

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