The 5 R's for Successful Educationby Dr. Joseph R. Fornieri, Rochester Institute of Technology
(This keynote address written for the convocation ceremony for incoming students at RIT was modified for high school education by Toni Russolello. Dr. Fornieri's complete keynote address can also be found on my website)
The 5 R’s require you to do 5 things that will enhance your educational experience: 1) To Risk; 2) To Respect; 3) To be Responsible; 4) To Reflect; and 5) To Relish. Let’s briefly consider each.
The First “R” asks you to Risk: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Your educational experience will be more fulfilling if you venture outside the private, self-contained electronic world of p.c., the internet, the i-pod and the i-phone. Step beyond this and engage the wider community around you. Cyberspace is no substitute for interpersonal space. Do not allow the safety and comfort of virtual reality to eclipse the unpredictable challenges and rewards of reality itself. Do not be afraid to ask that question in class; chances are your fellows have the same question but are afraid of asking it. To risk means to overcome the fear of failure. Rather persevere, learn and grow from your mistakes. Embrace challenges. When you are discouraged, just think of what Edison said, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
The Second “R” asks you to Respect: While I encourage you to risk, I also urge you to avoid destructive behavior that may harm yourself and others—and I do not simply mean physical harm, I also mean harm to your soul and character. Respect for yourself and for others means following that oldest of educational maxims—the Golden Rule—“do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Dialogue and friendship, so essential to human flourishing, can only occur in atmosphere of mutual respect. By entering into a dialogue of mutual respect with others, you will realize that our common dignity as human beings transcends ideological and physical differences, whether we are deaf or hearing, are black or white, conservative or liberal.
The Third “R” asks you to take Responsibility. This is perhaps the most important of the 5 R’s. A persistent attitude of entitlement and victimization will impede your growth. Beware of constantly blaming others for your own shortcomings, and of shifting responsibility from yourself to them. This habit will prevent you from honestly confronting your own limitations. In taking responsibility for your success or failure, I urge you to follow the timeless advice that my hero, Abraham Lincoln gave to young person who began the study of law: “Always bear in mind,” Lincoln said, “that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” Indeed, this sage advice came from a man who had only one year of formal schooling, who knew poverty, whose mother died when he was nine, whose father discouraged his learning, who suffered a breakdown after the death of his fiance, and who experienced great hardship, disappointment, and adversity throughout his adult life, including political defeat, a mentally ill wife, and the death of a son in the White House. Indeed, Lincoln’s greatness as a statesman was measured in part by how well he bore the awful weight of responsibility during a war that claimed the life of more than 620,000 Americans—a responsibility far greater and far graver than anything you may encounter as a student. You will be provided with all the resources and tools for success; but it is up to you to use them well and to make the most of your education.
The Fourth R. asks you to Reflect. It may seem trite and obvious to include reflection on the list of things to do. However, it is not as obvious as it seems. The frantic busyness of everyday life often leaves little room for reflection. Ironically, we may learn without ever seriously reflecting about the big things in life—about the meaning and purpose of our existence, about how to live rightly, about success, love, fulfillment, and happiness. Yet what could be more important? While your time here will involve the best vocational training that can be provided, and the mastery of different skill sets, I also hope that it will entail something else—namely, I hope that it will involve a quest for the self-knowledge that defines our human condition. Such knowledge is essential to becoming an educated, well-rounded, and thoughtful person. My own educational philosophy is based on the belief that each student has a unique gift and that they are here to discover this gift in order to fulfill a nobler purpose or calling to serve others.
The Fifth “R” asks you to Relish. By relish, I mean the enjoyment of leisure, from whose Greek roots we get the word school. It is a mistake, however, to confuse leisure with laziness or even idleness as we often do. On the contrary, leisure involves the pursuit of activities that are done for their own sake, that are intrinsically satisfying and rewarding. Indeed, the greatest flashes of inspiration often occur in moments of leisured activity. The muses will not visit those who are too busy and unreceptive.
Allow yourself to play then, to dream and to wonder. If you are receptive, life changing experiences may occur through a leisurely conversation over a cup of coffee with friends or faculty. Art, poetry, music, the marvels of engineering and physics, the universe, nature, the human genome, the personality, politics, philosophy, language, mathematics—all of these may stir wonder in our souls if we listen carefully and relish what they have to offer. My father, who began and ended his career as a Math teacher used to say that Math was beautiful. As a child, I was both intrigued and troubled by this? Was Dad torturing me because I was mathematically challenged? I only appreciated what he meant later in life, when I went to college where I began to love learning for its own sake. Dad loved the rigor, order and precision of Math not simply for its usefulness and practical power, but like the Greeks, for its own sake. Be open to wonder and inspiration. Allow the leisured love of learning for its own sake to animate your time and study.
Conclusion. In conclusion, the key to a rewarding educational experience is to work hard, and to play hard in the sense of leisure I have just described. Let the 5R’s be your guidelines in making the most of your time: 1) risk; 2) respect; 3) responsibility; 4) reflect; 5) relish. And always remember that Italian proverb, “Well begun is half done.”