Commencement Remarks 2010 and Honoring Tony Fulginiti

Class of 2010, you made it.  It’s been a challenge, but here you are.  And we, your professors, advisors, professional staff, friends, and family are so glad and so proud.  In your years here at Rowan, you as a group have accomplished much.  You have gotten good grades, excelled at sports, become a part of Greek organizations, kept student groups alive and successful, and won awards. Your successes and your challenges have touched your faculty and your peers.  You’ve made lifelong friends and learned more about yourself in the process. And now you turn to a whole new set of pursuits.  Some of you will head off to graduate school, some will get full time jobs, some will travel, some will start a family or continue raising a family, and some of you may not be quite sure what you will do after the graduation party.  There are many paths that you can take, but regardless of what you chose to pursue, my one piece of advice to you is the same – but, before I turn to that piece of advice, I would like to speak briefly about a member of our college, who is an impressive example of the principle I am about to espouse to you.  That individual is Professor Tony Fulginiti.

Professor Tony Fulginiti has been at Rowan since 1976, helping to build the Public Relations program and providing his service and support to the department and its students.  During his time at Rowan, Professor Fulginiti dedicated himself to doing each task to the best of his ability, and it showed.  He established and “brought up” a nationally award winning chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America that has contributed to the career success of many students.  In recognition of his work, the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America named an award for education in his honor, and he received the Outstanding Educator in the Nation award from PRSA in 1987. An author, a practitioner, and a dedicated teacher, Professor Fulginiti recently established the Fulginiti Education Foundation to serve public relations students at Rowan. He is clearly an example of long-term excellence to which we can all aspire and we are lucky to have had the pleasure to have him as a vital part of the College of Communication.  Professor Fulginiti is moving into a new phase of his life, retirement, this summer, and I suspect he will launch into that phase with all the devotion and focus he has shown to his work at Rowan.

Professor Fulginiti’s career can be seen as an example of the piece of advice I would like to leave you with today.  That advice is as follows:  Whatever path you choose to take with your life and your career, engage it fully and to the best of your ability.

Kenneth Burke, noted scholar of communication talks about humans as being the inventors of the negative.  Now, to discuss all of the things Burke meant by that would take more time than I have today, but one of the ways to understand it is that Burke is saying that we humans think in terms of what is not-here and not-now.  While we are doing one thing, we think about what we are not doing or what we should or shouldn’t be doing.  We have lunch with a friend, but we are thinking about the fact that we have to go to work afterward.   We get to work and do our jobs, but we are thinking about the workout we didn’t get that morning and planning how we will make up for it later.  We type up a report, but while we do, we consider whether our boss will like it and what she will say about it and whether it will help us get a raise or a bonus. We head home and have some leftover pizza, but we think about the salad that we should have had and what’s on television that night.  In any case, we are so busy thinking about where, or when, or who we are not, that we cannot dedicate ourselves to when, and where, and who we are. We miss truly listening to that friend and the joy of the conversation; we don’t do our very best work on that report or feel the satisfaction of fully focusing on the task and bringing our utmost to it; we don’t even really enjoy the taste of that pizza.

Keeping yourself in the moment you are in while putting your attention firmly onto the efforts you are engaging in, is the best path to success.  Now, I am not saying that if you do this you will never make a mistake or that you will end up on a yacht in the Caribbean, but when you truly focus on what you are doing and give it your very best, whatever you accomplish in that moment is a success and you can be proud of it.  You probably know this at some level intuitively.  When you have taken a test or written a paper and just put your attention into creating the most persuasive and clear argument you could or really showing what you knew, you likely did far better than when you were worrying about your grade, multi-tasking online, or thinking about something else. And even if the grade wasn’t your highest, you likely still felt good about working to your utmost.

In summary, class of 2010, take this piece of advice, this thing you already know at an intuitive level but maybe rarely consider, and head into your next set of opportunities.  Whatever you do, be in that place and in that time and who you are. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” Go forth, Class of 2010, and enjoy the surf.

Surviving Finals Week – Version 2.0

This post is a repost from last year, “enhanced” with new material.

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Final exam week creeps up on all of us (students and teachers alike).  Before we know it, all of those projects, presentations, and tests are due and we head into a frenzy of work to round out the semester.  We’ll all get through it, though it may not seem that way at the time.  In this entry, I present a few sensible tips to help you survive finals with body and mind (and hopefully grades)  intact.

Take care of your physical self – don’t neglect the life of the body for the life of the mind.  Though it’s tempting to survive the week on Cheetos, Red Bull, and M&Ms, while studying or working in your dorm room or apartment every minute that you don’t have a class meeting, it’s not a good idea.  Research has shown clearly that our minds work best when our bodies are functioning well.  So, try to keep a reasonable eating schedule and work on having a healthy diet that feeds your brain and your body.  Don’t skip the protein and live on carbs for a week.  While you are planning that eating schedule, be sure to put in enough time to sleep.  Studies suggest that we actually lose IQ points when we don’t get enough sleep.  You need your IQ points for exams!  Pulling an all-nighter to study for that exam is less likely to result in a good grade than studying sufficiently over a few days and then getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep before the exam.  Finally, don’t forget to get some exercise.  Even if you can’t find time to go to the gym or take a run, a brisk walk or a session of yoga can help clear the mind and calm anxiety.

When studying, focus on understanding, not memorization.  Memorizing can be a successful strategy – sometimes – but it doesn’t result in real long-term learning and the slightest glitch in the process can cause a brain dump that leaves you staring at the test sheet in horror.  How many times have you memorized a list of terms  using an acronym only to arrive at the test to find that you remember the acronym, but not what the letters represent.  Reread the material and your notes. Think about what the concepts are about and how they relate to other things in your life.  Do practice exams or problems and think about why the answers are what they are and how you reached them.  Write out your understandings of the concepts/ideas to help reinforce what you know.  Do this over the course of several days, not in one night, and you gradually begin to add the material to your own body of knowledge, rather than just placing a series of memorized factoids in your short term memory, where they will disappear right after the exam.  A final study strategy is to talk to others about the material.  There is little as helpful to learning as teaching.  As you teach someone else how to calculate the first derivative, you will really “get it” yourself.

Give yourself a break before the exam/presentation.  Don’t study right up until the instant the test starts (or practice until seconds before the speech or presentation).  This will only create additional stress and you’ll remember words or ideas you crammed in those last moments, but they won’t be well associated with your other knowledge and may actually get in the way.  Instead, stop preparing an hour or so before the test/presentation and take some down time.  Go for a walk, have a cup of tea, play with your dog.  Do something that clears your mind and puts you in a relaxed state to begin the work.

Stay in the moment.  Before an exam, don’t start worrying in advance about how you will do on it.  Focus on learning the material in each moment and when you are taking a break, really take a break and let it go.  Worrying beforehand will not help you in your studying.  Similarly, while you are taking the test, don’t focus on the grade you will get on the exam or your final course grade (or how happy or mad your parents will be or how it will affect your GPA).   Read the questions carefully and think about the material and providing the best answer you can in that moment.  Once the test is over, let it go.  Don’t head for the hallway and immediately start parsing your performance with your peers, or berate yourself for not doing as well as you could have, or check the answers and try to calculate your score.  Just go ahead to the next thing on your schedule and do that with full focus (whether it’s a game of frisbee or studying for another exam).

By following these tips, you’ll help yourself academically, mentally, and physically during exam week.  Good luck and good health!

LBA