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Honors Convocation: Linda Clader - Scott of the Antarctic and Other Failures

Created 25 May 1990; Published 19 June 2006

By PEPS

Professor Linda Clader speaks about "Scott of the Antarctic and Other Failures."

Transcript

1990 Honors Convocation

May 25, 1990

Speaker introduces Prof. Linda Clader who is to speak at this Honors Convocation on ‘Scott of the Antarctic and Other failures’ (?)

Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic in 1910-1013; they got to the South Pole a month after the Norwegian Party. ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ – she tells the story of how she saw the movie and then read the book. Her friends have been patient but not passive – caught onto her “act” and thought she was anxious about moving to California. “It’s not that I have been researching myth, ritual and heroic poetry all these years for nothing.” “Understanding what was happening did not make it go away. In fact at times it only made me frustrated that with this big brain of mine I could analyze my anxiety alright but I couldn’t control it.”

In some ways this convo is as much a monument to failure as it is to success. Because those who succeed are inevitably people who are most scared of failure. She spoke to students who unanimously said they never went to Honors Convo saying that at events like this the chasm between the students and faculty that the college considers successes and those who don’t fit that bill opens up. Even those who have made it to Honors Convo still secretly sympathize with what they are saying. Even though the college may not host an Honors Convo to make this distinction, people who are “successes” may squirm a little when the honors are announced. “Once you’re on this high achievement track, the push just doesn’t seem to end.”

She uses a Greek quiz as an example, where a student may get a B+ but have “Excellent” written against one of the sentences. She comments on how the silly mistakes and the B+ are remembered, the “excellent” is not.

She talks about the time she was being considered for tenure twelve years previously. The Dean read her forty letters written by students. Three of them had something negative in them and it is these three she remembers, not the rest. She did receive tenure but it was like going to the South Pole and dying on the way back. Or like the B+ in the Greek quiz. I is a one dimensional scale where we measure our worth not by how we feel about ourselves or how we have grown but by how many points we are below perfection. “We are obsessed with whether we measure up.”

There are fiendish variations of this system: we may shift the one-dimensional scale to measure different things such as popularity, etc. She discusses risks of thinking this way: the paralysis caused by the fear of being wrong, the way we treat others as components of our own self-measurement system. The only way we can break out of it is by actually failing. The way we break out is when we do our best and still fail. We test failure by seeing what outcomes might be if we did fail: but we still have a lot of control in these situations. “And then by some miracle we receive the insight that in spite of our failure the world has not ended and just perhaps something valuable has been won”.

Despite the grand look of the Profs, they are not here only to look good or celebrate success, but to celebrate their community. We wouldn’t be a community if we didn’t share our failures too.

Some rights reserved. Carleton College licenses this work under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

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