The following talk was given at Morning Assembly on April 29, 2014, by Ms. Virginia Cerussi. â€œA Loyola Student is Becoming More Open to Growthâ€? While each of the Grad-at-Grad qualities is thought of as being equally important, I can't help but think that without becoming Open to Growth, how could one strive to become more Academically Excellent, more Religious, more Loving, or more Committed to Doing Justice? Several years ago there was an article in the New York Times questioning why some people reach their creative potential while other equally talented people do not. After three decades of painstaking research by a Stanford psychologist, she concluded that the answer to this puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they're ever going to have approach life with a fixed mind-set. Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time live with a growth mind-set, and these have proven to be the most innovative and successful in life. She says that society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are naturals with innate ability but these tend not to fulfill their potential because they're too concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, take risks, leave their comfort zones, confront their own mistakes, and then learn from them. Having a growth mindset can profoundly affect all aspects of a person's life, not only from success at school and later in a job, but from personal relationships and parenting as well. In preparing this talk, I looked back on my own life experiences to reflect on those times when I was called to be open to growth, and I share a few with you now in the hope that my examples might inspire you to be open to new experiences as well. You may think I was born a teacher but that is not the case. When I was in college, there were only two career paths open to women -- nursing and teaching and I was interested in neither. As a chemistry and math major, I worked for two oil companies after graduation and then I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years raising my sons. During this time, I volunteered as a preschool religious ed teacher in my parish and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It put the thought in my head that perhaps I should pursue teaching so when a friend told me about an opening at a girls' high school teaching math and science, I took the risk and applied for the job. Right before school was to open, I nearly backed out because I was nervous about walking into a high school classroom never having studied how to be an effective teacher, never having student taught or even observed a class. The first year was tough but I hung in there, went back to school for my Master's Degree, and eventually became Assistant Principal, a post I held for 7 years. When I realized that the highlight of my day became the 45 minutes I spent in class, I knew it was time to leave my comfort zone and take a risk again and that risk brought me to Loyola 15 years ago. I found that teaching high school is not really that different from my first experience of teaching pre-school --- it's just that students are now in bigger bodies! A second example: A few years ago, I heard about a wonderful trip to Sicily advertised on the radio and the dates coincided with our Spring Break. I really wanted to go and so asked
numerous friends to join me but none was able to for one reason or another. One of them said to me, "Ginny, you're friendly. Why don't you just go?" And so I took the risk and went solo, hoping that I did not have "loser" written all over me when I appeared at the airport. Well, I met some amazing new people --- we refer to ourselves as the Sicily Sisters -- and we get together several times a year. Had I not left my comfort zone and taken the risk to travel alone, they would not be a part of my life today. Now I find myself at another crossroads in my life as I approach retirement. While part of me is tempted to follow the advice of my four-year-old granddaughter, who, when asked by her pre-K teacher to finish the sentence, "If I were queen of the whole wide world...." Charlotte answered, "I would lie down and do nothing all day." Well, I might do that for a day or two but that is certainly not who I am in the long term. In addition to spending more quality time with my four grandchildren, I hope to fill up those pages in my passport by traveling at times other than school vacations when the rest of the world is traveling. I want to take a course in conversational Italian as well as participate in the morning classes at my gym which I so enjoy in the summers. Just the names of the evening classes have told me they're not for me --Bronx Tough, Kickboxing, Belly Dancing, to name a few. I will volunteer at the nursing home where my mother, who celebrates her 98th birthday today, resides. And the rest of my plan is to have no plan and to just be open to opportunities as they unfold before me. Enough about me. How can you become more open to growth? Perhaps you might want to join a club new to you, or try out for a part in the play, or become a member of a sports team. You might enjoy writing an article for the Blazer and seeing your name in print, serving as a lector, altar server, Eucharistic Minister or retreat leader, joining Chorus, reading for pleasure, helping the less fortunate through Brownbaggers or a service trip, or by reaching out beyond your immediate circle of friends to making some new friends. At home you might make a conscious effort to be a good role model for younger siblings. There may be times when taking the risk did not turn out the way you had hoped. There is always the chance for rejection and failure. Well, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we learn from our mistakes. It is not the end of the world to make a mistake. I have made many in my life. What you don't want to do is make the same mistakes over and over again. With an open-to-growth mindset, you will be able to convert life's setbacks into future successes. You won't wake up one morning as an adult, look back on your high school years, and ask, "What if?" Now that I am at the end of my teaching career, I can't help but think back to how teaching was never in my original career plan when I was young but now I cannot imagine having done anything else. You do not have to have life all figured out at your young ages. Just be open to the path that unfolds before you. My 15 years at Loyola have been very happy ones and that is due largely to all of you and to those who preceded you in these same bleachers. I plan on returning over the next three years to witness each of you graduate. I love you all and I will miss you more than you know!