The importance of preseverance

Resourcefulness and perseverance have always fascinated me.  My father possessed both these qualities  and made him a hero in my eyes.  For years I was wishy-washy about whether I should emulate those abilities or just be glad I could call on him to make repairs, change a tire, jump start a battery, solve a geometry problem, assemble a new gadget (which, even then, came with badly translated Taiwanese instructions), or throw a spit ball.   Sadly, before his death, the only one I really mastered was that illegal spit ball, which is harder with a softball than you might think.

Although I’ve never fully developed my “resourcefulness gene” because I’d rather read a book than clean an aquarium and pay for repairs instead of making them myself, I have always been persevering. So much so that sometimes I pretend my first name is “Perseverance” instead of the dreadfully old-fashioned, “Patsy.”

Perseverance has served me well.  It got me through those difficult high school and undergraduate school years in which I was bright, athletic, studious and witty, but had not blossomed into an east Texas version of Elizabeth Taylor.  Alas, though I persevered far longer than reasonable, I never got close.

Perseverance, combined with my well-honed appreciation of the absurd, helped me survive those decades as the only female administrator ““ the one receiving less pay and fewer fringe benefits.  Nevertheless, I think, perhaps, I was both wise and resourceful when I just smiled each time a trustee referred to me as “Legs” and asked me to replenish his coffee.

And, both perseverance and resourcefulness, along with the slow, but steady, march of social change supported all of us who worked for and eventually achieved for Trinity women students the freedoms and responsibilities the men had long enjoyed.

Does today’s undergraduate experience help students become more persevering and resourceful?  I know that in selecting texts I realize my preference for ones in which admirable characters possess these qualities:  the “father” in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”,  Pvt. John Bartle in Kevin Powers’ “The Yellow Birds,” Joe Coutts in Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House,” Zeb, Toby, and their pals in Margaret Atwood’s “MaddAddam,” to name just a few.

I also tell everyone I see to view the recent Robert Redford film, “All Is Lost” which may well be, as some critics allege, “a parable of old age,” but which is simultaneously one of the most mesmerizing depictions of resourcefulness and perseverance I’ve ever seen.

Only last week an article, “Does Teaching Kids to Get “˜Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?” by Tovia Smith of NPR, addressed a new approach to teach young students “persistence, determination, and resilience” – an effort to assist children in becoming more tenacious by helping them realize that “mistakes and failures are normal parts of learning ““ not reasons to quit.”

Although no course labeled, “Developing Resourcefulness and Perseverance” and certainly not one called, “Developing Grit” appear in the new curriculum, I believe that the experiences of life in a residential community with all sorts of diversity except intellectual ability, the wide range of studies, and the availability and willingness of faculty to assist students in acting imaginatively, solving problems and overcoming difficulties all combine to make available to our students the developing of these essential lifelong skills.

In a recent interview, Dr. Thomas Jenkins of classical studies expressed a view that I think most faculty hold ““ we want to help our students develop pathways to knowledge, techniques for finding answers.  In other words, we hope to help you become resourceful and persevering.

Whether you are just stumbling toward the end of your first year, a graduating senior, a new employee or a long-time, wizened one, I hope you’ll consider the value of including these qualities in your educational goals.

Coleen Grissom is an english professor.