Practice, Passion, and Perseverance Underscore What's Wildly Possible

Photo from new student induction ceremony

President Capilouto shared the following remarks at the UK New Student Induction ceremony on August 22, 201.9


Dr. Angela Duckworth, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, set out to study a mystery: If talent does not predict success, what does?

Each year, more than 14,000 applicants begin the admissions process for West Point and only 4,000 qualify for nomination. After enduring a process designed to find the sterling students who meet the rigorous academic and physical standards, just 1,200 new Army cadets are admitted.

Nearly all those who enroll at West Point were varsity athletes and excelled academically. But most likely, as in year’s past, 1 out of 5 will drop out - most after just a few months. If the resumes, GPAs, and impressive athletic performances do not determine who makes it and who does not, what does? Her answer, and title for her book, is GRIT.

Grit, she believes, has two components: passion and perseverance. Passion, she states, is not an explosive epiphany.

It is following an internal compass directed by curiosity.

And, if pursued consistently over long and sometimes bumpy roads, curiosity will lead you to your interest and with practice, your purpose. Perseverance is also not immediate or gifted. It must be earned. Duckworth believes that with a daily commitment to improvement, you can overcome tendencies to be complacent. With practice, you commit to your passion, and through the ups and the downs you learn to persevere.

Duckworth’s story deeply resonated with me and upon reflecting on the University of Kentucky’s imperfect history, I found myself asking similar questions:

How, through 150 years of economic instability, prejudice, and divisiveness, has the University been able to be a leader in cutting-edge research; a force for progress, inclusion, and artistic expression in the Commonwealth; a springboard for the individuals who become the backbones of their communities and professions?

How, through 150 years of adversities, is the University of Kentucky so remarkable?

I dispatched someone unaware of Duckworth’s research and findings, in pursuit of the answer. After multiple surveys and interviews with students, faculty, staff, graduates and others we serve, her answer was simple but profound. 

At UK, we achieve more through grit and grace. By grit we mean the drive and persistence to succeed. To be comfortable being knocked down and confident enough to get back up. By grace we mean how we support and treat one another on the path to success. Our grace is characterized by generosity towards one another, diversity without divisiveness, and self-reliance without selfishness.

Most recently, when we were called to respond to the opioid epidemic gripping our state and nation, we banded together and answered with our grit and grace.

I’d like to acknowledge that this addiction is a chronic disease; not a failure of judgment and character.  It does not discriminate, but rather permeates economic, racial, and educational boundaries. And Kentucky, ranked fifth in the nation for opioid related deaths, knows the devastating grip of this disease all too well.

At UK, we take our role as the University for Kentucky seriously.

In response to calls for proposals from the National Institutes of Health, 20 UK faculty from 6 colleges worked around the clock for 90 days to produce a 600-page plan to decrease opioid deaths in Kentucky by 40 percent in 3 years. They partnered with over 150 others who work in governmental and non-governmental entities across our Commonwealth. And in April, Kentucky was one of 4 states granted an award of nearly $90 million to end this scourge. 

As we welcome you to this remarkable place, we enter a pact with you steeped in our tradition.

We believe in every student’s potential to excel and we draw out that potential in our own unique way — though grit and grace.

This is not something we do for you. We do it with you.

You have already taken the first step and we are ready to take the next steps with you.  So, what do we expect from you?

Today, our differences are being used as a wedge between us. Be prepared to grow.  

While this community is emotionally safe, it is intellectually challenging. And at times, you will be offended. Learn to listen more than you speak, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, to open yourself to those who are different. These will be the moments when your ideas may be refined, changed, or strengthened.

During your time at UK, this place will become a part of you.

We expect you to build a community not only of belonging, but a community worth becoming.

This journey is not supposed to be easy. Be prepared to fail.

Learn from your mistakes and do not let them consume you.  We expect you to dig in, work hard, win or lose, try again. This is when you will discover how capable you really are.

It is not failure that leads to hopelessness; it’s failure you think you can’t control. There will be days when you want to give up. Be prepared to ask for help.

Doing so is not a sign of weakness, but signs of honesty, strength, and courage.

We expect you to lean on this remarkable community. We have a responsibility to one another, so just as we have expectations of you, you should have expectations of us. Our job as a University is not to tell you what to think, but to teach you how to think critically and communicate effectively.

You can expect a place where courageous conversations happen. We are not here to tell you who you are. We are here to help you discover your passions which, when pursued, will guide you to who you want to become. You can expect your aspirations to be taken seriously and treated with the respect you deserve.

And finally, we are not here to carry you the whole way.

Be prepared to work hard. Go to your professor’s office hours, collaborate with your classmates, take advantage of the resources on campus designed to arm you with the tools necessary to succeed. You can expect us to push you to your limits but when you start to waver, we will be there to help you.

If you commit to opening your mind, closing the distances, and supporting one another, we promise to provide the support and space to do so.

Together, we can build a community that is Wildly Powerful.

If you fail, ask for help, persevere, and work harder, we will be there to help you rise to the occasion.

Together, we will discover that you are Wildly Resilient.

If you meet our expectations, we will meet yours.  If you exceed our expectations, we will do all that we can to exceed yours.

And together, we will achieve what is Wildly Possible.