Shaun: Sword making, or, the Importance of a Major/Career-Related Extracurricular

My high school track coach always said that freshmen were like the beginnings of a good sword: useless, worthless hunks of metal. They have no idea what they want to do, he would tell us, much less what they should or should not do. So they try everything; things they’re good at, things they’re definitely bad at, and everything in between. Freshmen are stupid, he said — and that’s what makes them great. They take the biggest risks, and they fail most of the time, and they really consider quitting. But once they find that thing that makes them come back for another day, either because they’re good at it or because they love it or both, it makes all the stupid first-year pragmatism worth it.

At this point it’s time to start making the sword, and the worthless, first-year piece of metal gets thrown into the fire. Day in and day out the metal is casted and molded, then casted and remolded again, until it’s strong enough to be brought out onto the anvil. Now the metal is hammered out, then it’s plunged into ice water, then hammered again, and again, until a sword is finally taking shape. In time the metal is remarkably strong, and it starts to be sharpened. Subtle and precise refinements form the edges that make the sword so effective and powerful. Some four years later, it’s spring of senior year, and what was once a shapeless clump of metal has been forged into a tool of absolute and utter destruction. The process was lengthy, and it was difficult. But it pays off. The result is something unstoppable, something purposeful, and above all, something of which you’re incredibly proud.

Sword-making is a really good metaphor for track and field, but I think it’s a really good metaphor for college, too. Freshman year on campus is the time to embrace the hunk of metal status. It’s the time to try everything, and be bad at things, and be stupid, because that’s the only way to find your thing. For me, that thing was The Daily Free Press; for you, it could be literally anything (we’re at BU, people — don’t tell me you can’t find an extracurricular). And once you have that thing, throw yourself into the fire. If you’re already in the fire, keep throwing yourself in. Hammer yourself into shape. Sharpen your edges with internships and study abroad and classes you love. Four years will go by in a blur. But you’ll come out of this workshop we call Boston University a tool of destruction ready to conquer your field and, if you’re feeling up to it, the entire freaking world.

And please, don’t be afraid of failing. The fire will always be there.