“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” — Oscar Wilde
To live authentically, free of the self-consciousness that tethers us to the approval of others, can be challenging in a society that seems to foster conformity. Take, for example, the presence of the same collection of chain restaurants and retail stores in every major city, as if to reassure Americans that they are at home wherever they go.
Sometimes remaining authentic may require an act of courage — the courage to discard the protective carapace of fear and accept, even celebrate, the real you.
Ask Conner Mertens ’17, the first bisexual collegiate football player to be open, on a national scale, about his sexual orientation. Or Emma Coddington, assistant professor of biology, who explores “impostor syndrome,” a psychological phenomenon in which high-achieving individuals are unable to internalize their own accomplishments due to feelings of unworthiness. Or alumnus R. Gregory Nokes ’59, who has combined scholarship and journalism to uncover the truth about shameful chapters in Oregon’s history.
“The privilege of a lifetime,” Carl Jung said, “is to become who you truly are.”
Over the course of Willamette’s 172-year institutional lifetime, authenticity has been, and continues to be, connected with a strong sense of place. Willamette’s historic role in preparing the leaders of what was once Oregon Territory has grown to encompass successive generations of leaders — of the West, the nation and beyond, as our alumni pursue lives of achievement, contribution and meaning worldwide.
Their aspirations underscore our belief that an excellent education is not about being, it is about becoming.
The university’s strategic plan, adopted in February 2013, challenges Willamette to become a better and more authentic version of itself. We challenge our students to do the same. Place-based student experiences immerse them in state and local politics; the history, art and crafts of indigenous tribes; area ecosystems, agriculture and forestry; service projects and internships with local businesses and nonprofits; and mentoring and tutoring at Bush Elementary, Willamette Academy and Chemawa Indian School.
Through this real-world engagement, students cultivate self-knowledge and build skills broadly applicable to their post-Willamette pursuits, no matter where on the planet they might lead.
This issue of The Scene illuminates, through the experiences of Mertens, Coddington, Nokes and others, the importance of finding, knowing — and being — yourself. Enjoy.
Stephen E. Thorsett
“...an excellent education is not about being, it is about becoming.”