On Friday, May 11, 126 seniors who had completed the rigorous academic requirements and successfully presented a dossier reviewing their accomplishments graduated with University Honors. One, Morgan Senter (above, center), was selected as the student speaker for the afternoon ceremony. Here are her inspiring words.
"One day last summer, I was interning at a sports performance facility where athletes come to work on their fitness and improve their game. In some cases, overachieving parents send their underachieving kids to the facility to train for a future of athletic glory. One of these clients, a ten year-old soccer player named Jacob, had exhausted all the other interns. He wasn’t acting out he just…wouldn’t stop talking and focus. He half-heartedly bobbed up and down during his squats while he hit me with a flurry of random questions, like, 'How old are you? What’s the capital of Kentucky? What temperature does water boil at? Is an avocado a fruit, or a vegetable? What’s the lifespan of a ferret?'
"It went on like this for weeks: lackluster squats, robust, endless questions and chatter. Then, finally, I got him to complete five squats with correct technique. I was so excited that I jumped up and down and said, 'Do you realize how great those were?! When you came in here, you could barely do them, remember?' Jacob thought for a second and then got excited too. 'Yeah, I couldn’t do them at all! I forgot about that.'
"He confidently moved towards his next task, which was to pull a weighted sled for three laps. He picked up the handles and started silently tugging. Because I had never heard him stop talking long enough to take a breath, I was concerned. I asked him if he was all right. Jacob focused straight ahead and said, 'Yeah, I’m fine! I’m just blasting "The Eye of the Tiger" in my head.'
I know that like Jacob, and like me, you all have come a long way by blasting your own versions of the Eye of the Tiger in your heads and I would like to congratulate you all on how far you have come. As honors students, we are characterized by a love of learning and a willingness to push ourselves. It is that second part, how we continue to challenge ourselves, that will determine the contributions we make to the world.
In exercise science, we have what are known as the principles of training. These principles outline the necessary conditions for improvements in physical performance. Even if you’re not interested in besting Usain Bolt’s 200-meter race time, these principles offer an excellent framework for personal growth.
Progressive Overload Principle
The first principle of training is the progressive overload principle. The core of this principle is that the resistance you are working against must be strong enough to elicit adaptations. We can translate this into general terms by recognizing that growth does not occur without some form of discomfort.
For instance, here’s a fun struggle: I’ve bumbled through Skype session after Skype session with students at universities in Mexico while trying to improve my Spanish. They asked what my major was. I replied with “Yes, I have two dogs.” They asked me where I was from. I replied with “I like eating.” Despite my discomfort and often embarrassment, I stuck with it for three years. Now, I can go to Mexico and order two different versions of tamales without being served a pair of socks.
Principle of Specificity
The next principle of training, the principle of specificity, states that physiological outcomes are specific to the training stimulus applied. So, this means that if I want to strengthen a weak muscle group, I have to train that muscle group specifically. This seems obvious, but we all procrastinate on addressing our weaknesses.
Up until last year, I was petrified of dance improvisation. As a dance minor, I encountered it regularly. If I heard rumors of an improvisation exercise, I scurried to the back of the class and hid behind my classmates. Senior year, I finally had the guts to sign up for a class dedicated entirely to improvisation. After a week of constant exposure, I wasn’t scared of it any more. For the final exam, I improvised with my classmates out in the open all over campus, something I never would have imagined doing before.
Putting yourself in situations to confront your weaknesses and fears is utterly terrifying. But, unless you take that risk, you’ll never know you might be capable of.
The variation principle of training states that we need variation in training programs to avoid burnout and challenge ourselves in new ways.
Over the past four years, I’ve been a researcher, a coach, an artist, and a traveller. I’ve worked in a physical therapy clinic, barrel-rolled through the middle of campus, and danced through the gardens of the VMFA with the 98-year-old founder of the dance department. I’ve taken naps in the library and I’ve taken naps in the parking garage. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that variety leads to new perspectives.
The individualization principle states that everyone has different training needs. Even though you are unique, the world will desperately try to convince you otherwise.
For the past decade, I’ve competed internationally in Irish step dance. Since I started undergrad, I’ve been told to quit more times than I can count. Instructors, advisors, and peers told me there was no way I could possibly pull off dancing while in college and preparing for a career in healthcare. It took too much time and effort. It was a distraction. I should quit and focus on my 'real goals' instead. Well, it’s four years later, I’m still dancing, and I’m getting on a plane in September to pursue graduate studies in dance in Ireland. Dance has opened the door to an international adventure and provided the inspiration for creative research that will ultimately enrich my future work in healthcare.
Stick to your gut. You know who you are and where you want to go.
I will leave you all with the principle of reversibility. This principle states that if you stop training, you will lose the performance improvements that you achieved. In a similar fashion, if we stop challenging ourselves after we leave VCU – if we stop reading, learning, creating, experimenting, we may lose the momentum we’ve gained here.
We all have had the privilege of an honors education and have been equipped with the tools to make a difference in the world and contribute to our communities.
We can’t let it go to waste.
And if you have trouble, like Jacob, stop talking; start moving, and crank up The Eye of the Tiger."
Check out our graduation photo album on Facebook!