Each year during Convocation, all first years proceed through the campus from Gasson Hall to Conte Forum, mimicking the walk they will take to their commencement ceremony on graduation day. Due to the rain cancellation of the “First Flight” procession, this year’s Convocation was more greatly focused on the path of character building, rather than that from Gasson to Lower campus.
This year’s procession into Conte was more analogous to a classier, yet still hectic Newton bus ride, with hoards of freshmen scrambling in at infrequent times. The event was behind schedule and chilled by the rain; within Conte, spirits did not appear to be high.
While opening remarks were important, there seemed to be more side-eye glances from the freshman audience sizing up those around them, rather than focusing at the speaker at hand.
However, this half-bored stupor soon came to full attention when David Brooks, writer of The Road to Character began to speak. While most freshmen had admittedly not read the book at all, or stopped halfway through when they found out it was not required, having Brooks in their presence brought his ideas and morals to everyone’s full attention.
“I thought his speech was much better than his book. He comes across very arrogant in the book, but in person, he seemed much more relatable and down to earth,” said Megan Nicoletti, MCAS ’19.
The wise words that Brooks imparted upon these first years could have also been said with the same ferocity as a commencement speech. His words went far beyond the stretch of their four years of college, and more into the rest of their lives, extending far beyond college.
In Brooks’ opinion, there are four things that a person has to do to go through moral development.
First is to locate a key sin and fight it. Brooks explained that words like sin and soul have been lost from our moral vocabulary. The sins that hold someone back from his or her full potential need to be defeated. Brooks described souls as athletes, who need strong competitors to make them even stronger.
Brooks also explained that suffering has to occur for someone to develop morally. When someone turns their suffering into growth, they learn that they are not the person they originally thought they were; it’s a humbling experience, but necessary.
Brooks explained that suffering sensitizes humans, and gives them empathy. People who suffer and grow from it grow because they turn their story into one of redemption.
Thirdly, Brooks asked the students to consider their vocation. He advised the students not to exclusively find something that they are passionate about, but to look at the world around them and ask what is this life asking them to do, and what problem demands their talents.
Miranda Albee, MCAS ’19, said that Brooks, “made me question how I’m living my life, and if the way I’m living is the way I want to be remembered.”
One of the most poignant descriptions that Brooks gave was of a woman who devoted her life’s work to advocating for worker safety after she witnessed 50 people jump out of the windows of a factory, because they preferred to die from jumping than burn to death.
While many of us may never witness something this extreme, Brooks gave the wise advice to find a vocation that you are truly interested in, and not just a job that earns a significant salary.
Finally, Brooks explained that it is vital in moral development to fall in love. Everyone needs practice in love. Falling in love is just as important as learning from getting hurt from love.
Rebecca Ramjug, MCAS ’19, thought that contrary to other adult speakers, Brooks was, “amusing and relatable.” Ramjug explained that he really made her think about what is actually important in this world, versus what everyone else thinks is important.
For some, the book gave them a new direction. “To me, it sets the tone of the next four years of my life at Boston College,” explained Jeremy Espano, MCAS ’19, “The book emphasizes service over success, redemption instead of failure, and compassion to replace competition.”
Espano went on to explain, “To me, this transforms how I plan to use my college education the next four years. I will get success from investing my time in others, I will use my downfalls as lessons… and I will build a community around me based on compassion, vulnerability, and from that vulnerability, strength.”