March 11, 2014 by Madelyn Smith
Ten things every human should know:
1. Love is the essence of life and all understanding
2. Spend time with yourself
3. You will get out of life what you put into it
4. Sometimes the things you thought were the biggest mistakes turn out to be the greatest blessings
5. Carpe Diem
6. Try new things
7. Explore the world
8. Reach for the stars
9. Pause. Breathe. Exhale.
10. Throw out numbers 1 thru 9…
Challenge the status quo by taking over-simplified bullet points and turning them into complex words and paragraphs that take energy to decipher. Push yourself to articulate observations and integrate experiences that speak to your heart through rich meaning and understanding. Refrain from speaking generally and instead focus on the various resources and opportunities that call you to action. Break the social norm and bring a new light to former lists that provide a framework for how to live. There are infinitely more than “20 things that every 20-something should do.” Get creative. Think for yourself. Inspire knowledge within by seeking opportunities that captivate your soul.
Use these lists as a guide, but do not take them for fact. The most dangerous trap is taking something at face value and believing it just because it’s convenient. Be wary of easy. The easier the challenge, the less opportunity for growth. When you want to resign to lists, ask yourself why? Your motives provide key clues to your actions and ultimate outcome.
Simple is easy to digest, but it is also easy to contradict. It is easy to agree with and easy to forget. The word itself defines its potential and perpetuates apathetic engagement.
In a world ripe with information, it seems silly to settle for simple. I understand the value of removing distraction and “getting to the point”, but I refuse to think that people should orient their lives around something as concrete as a list.
I believe there is beauty in descriptive words. There is beauty in explanation and reflection. Imagery, alliteration and detail provide our imaginations with thoughts and ideas to deliberate and discuss. Words bring definition and power to otherwise meaningless observations. Words explain, define, create and elaborate on experiences that enrich our lives and grow us into the individuals we hope to become.
Live in list and you’ll miss your life. Live in the moment and you might just be surprised at what you’ll find…
January 17, 2014 by Madelyn Smith
Sometimes we find ourselves in an unpredictably difficult bind trying to figure out what move we are going to play next. We weigh the options in front of ourselves considering the possibilities, the ramifications and the consequences, but cannot predict the ultimate outcome. With our best poker face we navigate decisions – both simple and complex – that affect our lives and the people that we become. We understand that the game is played differently by every player, yet we seek the knowledge of those before us to create a frame of reference for our choices. Still, we must remember that an identical hand will unfold in a different manner every round depending on the other cards at the table.
When you are born you are handed a set of cards. It is up to you to decide when and how to play them. It is at the opportune time, at the opportune moment that you reveal the trick of the hand.
So, save the shiny card. Hold onto the Ace. Humbly keep your greatest asset to yourself as a quiet strength that grounds you and reassures you of the choices that you make. There will be times in your life when you want to reveal to the world the things that have made you successful in your own right, but wait… one thing that you will begin to recognize is that your life, your choices, and actions are a reflection of your confidence. Have the will to believe in yourself. When you hold the power, you chose your fate. But the minute you let that go…
The greatest poker players never reveal their hand. As the round finishes they quietly place their cards face down on the table, keep to themselves and remain collected. They might look back and wonder what would have happened had they played a different card. Sometimes they have regrets. We all do. The next time the same situation arises they consider it twice before folding prematurely. Even if it is an entirely different circumstance, the same hand will solicit a warning of a possible missed opportunity. Be aware of these moments. Just because something potentially was right in a certain context once-upon-a-time does not necessarily mean that the outcome will be the same. Be wary, yet optimistic. Skeptical and hopeful. Calculated and willing to risk. Have faith in your cards and faith in yourself. Have faith in the hand that you’re dealt.
October 4, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Walking through the streets of Washington, D.C. there is an air of uncertainty that permeates all that we do these days. This uncertainty is accompanied by a skepticism and distrust in government that I have never felt before. It is disheartening, this feeling of uncertainty, yet I understand the frustration that many people are feeling. People are disenfranchised by the inability of the government to compromise or agree.
Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address that the United States should be a government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Our public officials were elected to office to represent the voice of their people, to stand for bills and policies that would help the American Public, not put 800,000 people out of work. So, who is to blame? The media has pointed fingers at our congressmen and women- the people who are slaving hours on end to negotiate a resolution to the budget and debt crisis. Yes, congress is polarized with strong personalities who have made the news for their opinions, but I am optimistic they are working on our behalf to make positive change. Many people say that it is Obama’s stubborn stance on Obamacare that has created this mess. The truth? No one REALLY knows… It’s not the answer that any of us want to hear. Everyone thinks that there has to be someone or something to blame in order to put those pent-up emotions somewhere.
Well, here’s the truth: it’s the system. The system that allows us the freedom to debate. The system that allows us to share our opinions. The system that gives Congress the power to decide our fate as a country. The success of our country is built on this system. The liberties we have are a result of this system. The problem is that as well as this system functions, there are occasional mishaps that cause major Government shutdowns.
This is not the first time that the government has shut down, and I can guarantee that it will not be the last. Rather than become jaded by the United States government, I have decided to take a different approach. What I recognize, is that in order for there to be some sort of change, people are going to have to let go of their ego; something that will not happen voluntarily. Instead, come October 17th the threat of defaulting on the Debt will be so great, and there will be so much external pressure on Congress to act, that they will have to compromise. My hope is that there will be an agreement sooner, but there is no way to know. The best I can do is put my faith in the people who are working their hardest to make things right.
You might think that I am living under a rock speaking favorably about the Government in this time of crisis, but I still have hope. Hope persists despite the uncertainty, despite the shootings, the riots, the shutdowns and the crises – hope persists when the real world shuts down, because hope is all that we have.
August 27, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington I thought it appropriate to address the Class of 2017 with a promise on the power of dreams…
I remember fall 2009 when I moved into Spotswood along with 72 other freshman dreamers excited about where the future would lead, somewhat anxious to meet new friends and build a reputation, and curious about what the next four years would bring. As time passed, we grew more comfortable with one another and realized that we would spend the next four years learning and growing alongside of these people and hundreds of others. We learned that our horizons would be broadened with each passing day, that we would be challenged to think in entirely new ways, and that we would define our dreams in the context of this brilliant academic setting.
To the freshmen – now is the time to dream. Now is the time to set your sights on the most ambitious feats that you can imagine and chase them. Tell yourself that you can, and you will. Make connections with professors (they are there for YOU!), pursue your academic pursuits passionately, take time to reflect on the emotions you are feeling now, and don’t ever forget them.
For many of you, this is the first time you have experienced what it feels like to establish a reputation for yourself individual of your parents, family or other associations. You can chose who you want to be – what a beautiful thing! Use this time to try new clubs, push yourself out of your comfort zone to meet new people, and make the most of every activity. You get out of life what you put into it, so I would challenge you to meet every day with a happy heart and a courageous mind and move forward knowing that you are going to ROCK W&M.
You were selected because you are one of the finest students in the country. You are highly capable, brilliant and well-rounded. The Class of 2017 brings one of the most diverse, dynamic and bright classes the College has seen yet. Get to know your classmates. Make a point to build community.
As an alumna of the College, I also want to remind you that by joining the Class of 2017, not only are you joining the 5,000 undergraduates who you will study alongside of for the next four years, but you are also joining a network of thousands of William & Mary alumni who are here to help you. We were all freshmen once and remember what it feels like to travel through this period. We are here to provide help, mentor-ship, advice and whatever we can offer. The incredible thing about W&M is the College community extends well-beyond your four years in Williamsburg.
Welcome to the Tribe, Class of 2017, welcome to the Family.
August 22, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Day after day I am bombarded with news about wars raging, violence ensuing, natural resources depleting and crises destroying lives of millions of people. I sit on the metro, tears welling in my eyes, feeling so small in a world that is consumed by distress. I stay up late nights making sketches of solutions to these problems consistently met with challenges; lack of resources, connections, people, and mostly, time. How do you effect change if you are just one single person in a sea of thousands?
- Recognize that the hero’s of our world didn’t get there by chance. They didn’t make a name for themselves by passively sitting down and waiting for the next big thing to happen. Maybe there was a stroke of luck, but they rose to the challenge. They saw an opportunity and they chased it. I am inspired by those people who recognize an issue, understand that they are only one person, but work to mobilize groups – sometimes thousands – for a cause they believe in. You might only be one person, but you are one person with a voice.
- Set yourself aside. The human mind only has a capacity to empathize with a select population of people, but empathy can also be created and bred through experience. It is easier said than done to pick up your life and go move to a place where you can experience poverty, turmoil and conflict. I’m not asking you to do that. Instead, think about what people in these situations are feeling. Try to imagine what it would feel like to come home to a house where your family was victim to a chemical weapons attack… you step over the bodies of the people you love most in this world, realizing with each passing moment that every single one of them is dead. Put yourself in the shoes of a rebel fighter struggling with every thing that he or she has for a peace that they may never know. Picture yourself walking for days to seek refuge in a neighboring country with a single bag of belongings, knowing that you may never be able to return home. The process of learning to empathize will create a deep passion to bring about change that will continue to motivate in the toughest times.
- Understand that the news is subjective. As consumers of the media, we have a responsibility to deduce truth, and form opinion based on our most objective interpretation. The goal of the media is to solicit a response – whether negatively or positively – to a situation. And while we like to think that the news is entirely objective, like any private corporation, these agencies need to stay in business which means they have to “sell” the news. Stop and think about it. The day that the Washington Post reported that a drought was killing and displacing thousands of people in Somalia, Casey Anthony was on the front page*. This should tell you something about the priorities of the news.
- Finally, BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN. The thought of becoming jaded horrifies me, which is why I will continue to write blogs like this to remind myself that we are all capable of perpetuating good in this world. If we all became cynical about our ability to create change, no one would ever get anything done. There are millions of people who work long days and dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. To those individuals, I solute you.
If you take away one thing from this message, it is that you have great opportunity to make a difference. You can be the change. You can be the inspiration. The hope. The reminder of good. The positive light in the darkest places. Don’t ever forget that…
August 8, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
In 1904 James Southall Wilson wrote the Alma Mater of the College. Directly translated to “nourishing mother”, this hymn represents all that has been, is, and is yet to come for William & Mary and the Class of 2013! Tomorrow morning when your name is called and you step up on stage to receive your diploma, you will become alumni of the college. You too, will join in the thousands of students who have taken William & Mary as their Alma Mater.
Hark! The students’ voices swelling echoing through Lake Matoaka, down DOG Street, across the Botetourt Complex, out the windows of Wren and around William & Mary Hall.
Strong and true and clear they share stories of years gone by – memories of Convocation, Homecoming, Charter day and LDOC.
Alma Mater’s love they’re telling with a knowing that these memories will live on in the legacy they will leave behind in the bricks that make up old campus and the tradition that flows throughout the College.
Ringing far and near a resounding spirit of accomplishment for the Class of 2013!
William & Mary loved of old you’ve given us the gift of a strong mind and a community that will never be broken.
Hark upon the gale for the knowledge inspired in us by those who believe in the possibilities our lives represent. Praise for the times our internal chains were shattered and our definition of truth was challenged. Praise for new perceptions formed on the basis of this rich and fulfilling education.
Hear the thunder of our chorus prevailing on despite the trials, conquering that last exam, staying up all night to study and confronting challenges we all have faced.
Alma Mater – Hail for this place we now call, home.
God, our Father, hear our voices as we ask why Anna B. Martin didn’t cancel school that day and what President Reveley actually meant when he said “succulent stories”.
Listen to our cry of rejoice and merriment as we celebrate the last four years gone by, knowing that our next step into a world will continue to mold us, shape us and grow us.
Bless the College of our fathers for the endless moments on this campus that will live on in our souls.
Each one of us equipped with unique insights and a special story, a story written here. This time, a chapter, in the book of life that will last throughout the years. The pages might wilt and the ink might fade, but this chapter will remain. Crisp fall days in the Sunken Garden. WaWa runs. Swem moments. Office hours. Research. Athletics. Concerts. Dances…Sketched on the page and locked in your heart. If ever should you feel alone, remember the Alma Mater of the nation in this place forever home.
Let her never die for in each of us lives the spirit of the Alma Mater, a knowing that William & Mary in our hearts will forever reside…
July 9, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Belonging. It’s the thing that defines us, controls us, consumes us and encourages us. It’s the reason that we push ourselves to be something that we are not, the reason that we work hours on end to come up with the image that we hope to project to people and the reason that we are motivated to do what we do. There is no better feeling than the belonging that comes when you have successfully attained a goal or proven yourself. There is also no better feeling than belonging simply for who you are.
Whether or not you chose to admit it, everyone has a brand that they subscribe to; everyone has a lens through which they define themselves. You might be the book nerd, the architect, the politician, the dreamer, the enthusiast, the comedian, or any combination, but how you define yourself is important to the success you will achieve and the person that you will become. The first step to belonging is believing that you are capable. Confidence is crucial in belonging, because the more you believe that you can, the more likely that you are to become. A brand might be the office you work in; your company culture, identity and environment might define the person that you are and hope to become. Your brand might align with your morals and values and present itself through the activities you chose to pursue in your free time. You might be the activist or advocate who stays up long hours to write on behalf of their cause. You might be the religious individual who bases their actions and choices on a scripture or text.
Some brands are built around something that we hope to become. We strive to follow the model or brand of someone who has gone before us. Whether it is someone in your field of interest, an inspirational figure, a fictional character or role model, we try to emulate the actions of those who have already experienced the situations that we are encountering.
Just because you have a brand, or an identity doesn’t mean that it isn’t changing. The way that you present yourself develops and changes as you grow and discover more about yourself. As you become enlightened or captivated by a topic or interest, your brand might shift to make that interest a larger part of your identity. As your preferences shift, and your priorities change your brand molds to fit the person you have become. This process might be slow and developmental, or it may change rapidly with a single incident. In the moment you might not recognize the shift, but inevitably you will look back on the person that you once were and realize that the person you have become is different. In this process, it is important to remember that you are your own harshest critic. There is no right, wrong or better brand. Your brand is the best label that will ever be.
The way that we find our light and inspiration is in our search for purpose and belonging. Every struggle and uncertainty shapes your brand and further defines the places where you belong.
As of this May, I am a twenty-two year old William & Mary graduate. I am searching for my purpose and belonging while I reflect on what I value and find important. I have big hopes and even bigger dreams, and I am eager to embark on the rest of this journey called life. I have surrounded myself with people who I admire with hopes that I will make a life similar to what they have created. I am driven by a deep desire to create change and make the world a better place. It sounds simple, but my drive to do good is the reason I wake up each morning and do what I do. My journey so far has taught me that finding your light is the greatest gift you can give to the world. For it is through this belonging and with this light that you discover your place of greatest impact.
May 10, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
I walked towards the banner today. Slowly, watching it grow larger as I approached from the distance. The last time I saw this banner was four years ago…
The day was hot and muggy. We were all decked out in our preppy attire eager for the grand convocation welcome, and exhausted from a week of orientation. I remember sitting there next to the girls of Spotswood Third Upper day-dreaming about the next four years of college; the adventures, college parties, clubs and organizations that I would join, when all of the sudden the president took the podium. I vaguely remember what he said, other than a resounding welcome for the Class of 2013. What I remember is the faces of the students around me. Excited and smiling, faces full of wonderment and curiosity of what the next four years would bring. A few of us in the row squeezed hands as he acknowledged the bond between the freshman hall and how these friendships lasted a lifetime. It sprinkled rain at one point, but no one seemed to care; we were the class of 2013 and NOTHING could take us down! As the ceremony came to a close there was an overwhelming roar of cheers from the Class of 2013. However, when the crowd quieted down the noise didn’t stop. Somewhat confused my fellow classmates and I looked at one another and shrugged, maybe our ears were playing tricks on us? The next thing we knew the doors to the Wren building flew open and on the other side of the building one could see the heads of hundreds of students all shouting and cheering. Never in my life have I felt so loved and welcomed. One by one each freshman passed through the building and walked out into a sea of upperclassmen smiling, waiting to greet us. The year 2013 a distant thought, it seemed nearly impossible to imagine.
Four years later I walked towards the banner. I smiled thinking how fast this time has gone, and how grateful I am for the many moments here. As is normal these days, I smiled and then I burst into tears… There is no way to put into words the emotions of Commencement. Four years of dedication, hard work and persistence and then, like that, it’s over. Underclassmen, treasure it. It truly does go by fast.
As I looked at the banner hanging above the door to The Wren Hall I couldn’t help but think of the diversity in the Class of 2013. Listening to the ambitions and dreams of my fellow classmates over the past few weeks has been a humbling experience. Nonprofits, business corporations, private entities – you name it, we’re doing it. Our class boasts some of the best and brightest in the nation, yet they are humble and driven by a desire to do good in this world. I could not be more proud to be a member of this remarkable group of individuals.
Sunday morning we will walk under the banner once again. This time, a more solemn tone, but a celebratory walk nonetheless. To the Class of 2013, WE DID IT! I hope each of you will walk with your head high and your heart beaming knowing that you are a part of something bigger than yourself, you are a part of the Class of 2013 and the College of William & Mary!
April 22, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Lately I have been having a lot of moments where I stop and pause to think about the past four years at William & Mary. I find myself slowing down when I walk to and from class, pausing to notice little treasures about the College that once seemed unimportant. Have you ever noticed that there is a bed of tulips walking into the Sunken Garden where the willow tree fell, did you know that the echo wall can be used by two people at once, or that the portraits in the Great Hall of Wren are former presidents?
So many little things about William & Mary that we, as seniors, still don’t even know – and that is the beauty of our college. To each individual the College represents something else; a special place where you’ve grown into the person you’ve always wanted to be, a place of hardships and frustrations that only worked out in the end, strictly an academic institution where you chose to sped the past four years, and the list goes on.
Something pressing on my heart recently is the idea of philanthropy and the value of giving at William & Mary. Without philanthropy so many of the little treasures at the College that make it so unique would cease to exist. With less than 13% of our operating budget being state sponsored, the College is heavily dependent upon private donors to sustain its successful programs. People praise the community that is so strong here at the College, but the community will only remain strong if we, as friends, family and alumni of the College invest in its well being.
When I first came to William & Mary I thought it would be crazy to donate anything above the sum that the financial office asked for tuition. It seemed ludicrous that anyone would want to give back to the College after paying so much money to simply attend.
Over the course of the past four years, I have seen first-hand the impact of private giving and the importance of participating in philanthropy. In cultivating a community, all members must be engaged and participating in some capacity. So much value can be derived from even a small donation; time or money. Clubs, organizations, academic facilities, staff, genuinely every subset of campus benefits.
The prestige, recognition and value derived from a degree at William & Mary is directly correlated with the opportunity that we, as students, have . The culture of academic excellence, vibrant engagement and immense student participation can all be attributed to the experiences that we have as a result of the private monies that we have given.
Just as we have a responsibility to change the world with our education, I believe that we should be accountable to those students behind us who deserve to have the same incredible opportunities that we have had at William & Mary.
For those of you who are seniors, please consider donating to the Senior Class Gift today!
February 19, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
One of my favorite songs goes, “There will be a day with no more tears
No more pain, and no more fears…”
I often wonder what the future holds, but feel liberated by the fact that I will never know. Like great theorists and intellectuals who have come before me I can postulate about the state of the world years from now and hope that I will be accurate in my attempts to explain the future, but in actuality the best I can do is guess. Through discussing and hypothesizing our thoughts about the future, I believe that we can take preventative measures sooner rather than later to understand the human species and our place in this world. These ideas are no use in the time capsule of my own computer, so I will share them with you.
By 2063 we will have an advance understanding of medicine with a cure for cancer, AIDS and HIV. Cloning, blood analysis and other accomplishments will have been made in this world, however the ramifications of modern medicine will be great, potentially creating diseases that cannot be cured. The primary health concerns will be carpal tunnel, arthritis, vision problems and hearing defects as a result of the many hours behind a computer typing away and staring at a screen and listening to music at high volume.
Violence will take new shape. States will not be invested in war the same way that we are today, because in 2063 human capital will be of little value to war. The crux of war will be man-made machines such as drones that will be so advanced that they will require little operational skill or ability. The tactic of self-sacrifice through suicide bombing or plane-crashing will be archaic and the spread of lethal diseases and chemical will be our greatest fears. Terrorism will be more advanced and networked in many areas all over the world. By 2063 North Korea will have tried to detonate a bomb on the United States, but failed in their attempts to blow up the country. As a result of this catastrophe the international community will understand the severity of nuclear weapons and will agree to thwart all nuclear programs. An international government will be established between countries where states are self-policing and mutually accountable to one another. The United States will not be the hegemon that it is today.
By 2063 we will have had our first woman president and potentially our first homosexual president. In fact, it is possible that democracy will be re-imagined entirely to be more accommodating of our 21st century needs. The term globalization will no longer exist because the world will be so inter-connected that there will be no need to explain this phenomena. English will still be the language of the world, but increasingly more people will speak Mandarin and Spanish.
Due to population control families will be limited to two children in developed countries. Alternative sources of energy will be discovered, likely in the form of a natural resource that currently exists but that has not been discovered for this purpose. To combat water issues someone will create a water filtration system that will allow individuals to rapidly purify salt water to utilize the 71% water on earth. This will not be sustainable, but will be necessary for survival. Further, someone will invent a filter system for the shower that allows you to only use 5-10 gallons per shower. The system will be replaced with new water once annually.
Education will not exist in the traditional sense, but will be primarily online using websites such as Coursera. Students will spend the majority of their time participating in online classrooms with students from all over the world, and then meeting periodically in person with students in their local area. It is possible that by the year 2063 students will have holograms of themselves that will sit around the table in a virtual room to share ideas and information with one another. Questions about ethics will arise as developers create brain chips that allow someone to access computer databases full of information simply by thinking about them. Peoples’ perception of themselves and their identity will not be tied to a specific country, but rather the people that they are surrounded by in their living communities.
I realize that this is a somewhat pessimistic view of the world and where will be 50 years from now. My hope is that despite these dramatic developments and advancements, humanity will unite to create a more peaceful world. That people will be more actively engaged citizens collaborating together to eradicate social issues and reduce divides across politics and opinions. Who knows, maybe we can create a world with no more tears, no more lies and no more fears.