Kindergarten spirit is essential to success

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (U-WIRE) — We’ve all heard the slogan a thousand times from a thousand different people. Our parents tell us when we’re young, our teachers tell us through school, at college orientation everyone tells us. “Get involved,” they say, with little more instruction. On Wednesday, a former first lady said the same thing to a standing-room-only crowd in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom — maybe she got the message across.
Barbara Bush’s speech, sponsored by the Center for Governmental Studies’ Youth Leadership Initiative, obviously was canned — she had given it many times before at other functions. Speeches are, however, usually canned for a reason. This one had everything a traditional First Lady’s speech should have: inspiration, jokes about the first family and many pseudo-motherly words of advice. Her main message was simple: Yes, you can.
She told a story of a kindergarten classroom. When asked whether they could draw, every one of them shouted, “Yes, I can!” When asked whether they could sing or dance, they of course said, “Yes, I can!” They could sing or play or dance or learn anything because they were five and they didn’t know any better.
Then Bush asked the room to imagine the same scene but with college-age students. Would they raise their hands as enthusiastically as the kindergarteners? Doubtful at best. Most would respond that art wasn’t their major, or that they could sing, but only a little. Some might say that they dance, but they’re not any good. Still others might protest that they never knew how, completely forgetting their days as a 5-year-old Picasso, John Travolta or Frank Sinatra.
How can this be? Bush asked the crowd at large if they knew what happened to kids between the ages of five and 22. Most simply smiled back — who knows what they were thinking.
But there, in that very room, the nefarious self-selection process continued. There were kids of all ages — adult ones, too — and they all subconsciously classified themselves. The middle-schooler might have wondered if she had the “right” socks on, and the high school basketball player might have worried if his performance in the game last night was good enough. A college student could have thought to herself, “Wow, Barbara Bush is an amazing public speaker … I never could do that.” What happened to the super-eager, extra-zealous 5-year-olds who were willing to try it all?
The Cavalier Daily reported last fall that 50 percent of first-year women often feel depressed. They can feel disconnected, worthless, separate somehow. We shouldn’t be surprised. Kids endure years of pressure from parents, cruelties and laughter from their classmates, and judgments and classifications by their own bruised egos. Judging from the response of the 5-year-olds, this is learned behavior. No one has to feel this way.
Sometimes the problem might be a little bit of isolation, and sometimes it might be something more serious. Either way, it can be fixed. Moving from an attitude of “I can’t” to “I can” means getting over any fear of failure and realizing that while failure is the worst thing that can happen, even if it does, it’s not so bad. That final step often can be in the hands of others, too — someone who sees the potential, gives the compliment where it’s due, encourages a friend to get out there and make use of the talents she has or tells a classmate to come out and discover new ones.
Barbara Bush has had an amazing life. She’s been the wife of a president, is the mother of five children, and might be the “First Mom” in a few more months. In a family such as hers, it would be far too easy to let the super achievers stand out and overshadow the rest. But Bush took care in her answers to point out the accomplishments of all her children, speaking of how they have each made a contribution to public life.
When one reporter asked her if Jeb would find a place in a potential George W. cabinet, Barbara Bush firmly said that he wouldn’t. She said Jeb is the governor of Florida, and he has important things to do on his own.
Neither is Bush overshadowed by her husband’s or sons’ accomplishments. On her own she has launched reading initiatives and set an example for the nation, while staying down to earth and grounded in her family. But neither she nor her family could have accomplished as much as they have with the defeatist attitude so many young people have.
In a world where thoughts move at the speed of light and the bottom line is becoming more and more prevalent, it’s easy to feel marginalized or skipped by the rushing crowd. Learning to run alongside the big dogs might take practice and might only happen after some bumps in the road, but it can be done, and we’re in the perfect place to do it. Many politicians have demonstrated that your college foul-ups don’t really matter much later — why not take the plunge now? We’re 18, 19, 20 or older, but no matter what our ages, we’ve never learned all there is to know about our own hidden talents. So ask yourself, can I sing? Can I draw? Have I tried?
Emily Harding’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of Virginia paper, the Cavalier Daily.