Lessons from hiking: Dean Charles White imparts valuable advice to the Class of 2027 during Convocation keynote address
Aug 25, 2023
by Anna Boone
Convocation ceremonies are a long-standing tradition among collegiate institutions meant to mark students’ entrance into higher education and welcome them into their new academic communities.
“The profoundest sense of what community means is to share a bond together and to forge a common identity together within that bond,” VP of Academic Affairs, Art Vanden Houten said to the Class of 2027. “I believe deeply in the transformative power of that idea and of this community that you are now joining.”
Flagler’s Fall 2023 Convocation ceremony was held Tuesday, Aug. 22 in the Lewis Auditorium. It featured a processional of faculty and administrators, multiple speakers, and performances by the College’s student choir.
The auditorium was packed and buzzing with the chatter of new friendships. There was both excitement and anxiety in the air, feelings the keynote address tapped into. Delivered by Charles White, the recently named Dean of Flagler’s new School of Business, the speech was a fitting and inspirational metaphor offering students practical advice as they embark on their journey as a Saint.
“College is very much like a great hike.”
White got a call asking if he would be the keynote speaker for Convocation while he was on a family hiking trip this summer. As he addressed the crowd, he acknowledged two paintings by his children displayed on stage that depict scenes of their hiking summits.
“Just like hiking, where you discover hidden gems along the path, college life offers numerous opportunities for personal and intellectual growth,” White said. “So today, I want to share with you a just few thoughts about hiking that I hope you’ll also find helpful as you embark on your college experience:"
1. Set your destination
“When you decide to go on a hike, you usually have a destination in mind—a summit to conquer or a breathtaking viewpoint to reach,” White said. “Similarly, as you begin your college journey, it's essential to set clear goals and objectives.”
In teaching management courses, White said he believes Goal-Setting Theory has had the most enduring effect on success in the field of business.
“Goals encourage us to stay on task, to persist, to learn, and to apply our best effort,” he said.
2. Start strong and embrace the ascent
“It is the difficulty of the climb that makes the summit even more beautiful,” White said
Embracing difficulty can give students a greater appreciation for what they will accomplish, but White also acknowledged that starting strong and keeping a good pace will pay its dividends.
“One of the best predictors of long-term success in many different contexts is grit,” he said. “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”
3. Seek guidance
“A great sherpa can be the difference between a successful climb and disaster,” he said. “But keep in mind that this is your journey. We are here to advise you, but your name will be on the degree. Own your adventure.”
Referencing sherpas, a term for trail experts who ensure the safety of hiking groups, White underscored the importance of support during the college experience.
“Just as you choose a hiking trail that aligns with your abilities, interests, and goals, it's crucial to choose the right academic path during college,” White said. “Seek guidance from professors, academic advisors, and fellow students.”
4. Pack wisely and learn from experiences
“When I first started hiking, I carried a lot of unnecessary equipment that I never used,” White said. “As I spent more time on the trail, I learned what tools I needed and packed only the essentials, shedding unnecessary weight that slowed me down. But I also added some new equipment.”
He said the same logic holds true for your commitments in college and the resources you utilize. Shed what you don’t need and add to your toolkit when necessary.
“Every experience—whether it be academic, social, or personal—will teach you valuable lessons,” he said. “Embrace these experiences, as they shape your character and prepare you for future challenges.”
5. Build strong relationships with fellow hikers
White recounted one hike when he made an unlikely friend who brought joy to even the hardest parts of the trek, a stray dog who tagged along for the whole hike.
“The connections you create in college will not only enrich your college experience but also help you build a powerful network that extends beyond graduation,” he said.
6. Take care of your mind and body
“Some great hiking advice is to put your feet up when you sit down and eat lunch,” White said. “Taking the occasional break is essential for rejuvenation and sustenance.”
Incorporating well-being into the balance of academics and your social life is tricky but necessary, and White encouraged students to take advantage of all the resources available to them at Flagler like the Counseling Center and the Learning Resource Center.
“Remember, it’s all here for you!”
7. Embrace different viewpoints you’ll encounter along the way
The excitement of an ever-changing perspective is one element of hiking White cherishes the most.
“As you come out of the tree line, your world opens and you immediately feel small and in awe of the world around you,” he said. “In many ways, this is precisely the goal of a liberal arts education.”
White referenced the new Core Curriculum as an innovative way Flagler is striving to give students new lenses to look at life through.
8. Celebrate achievements
“Reaching the summit during a hike is a moment of great accomplishment, and so will be the day of your graduation,” White said.
With graduation four years away, White acknowledged that this day in the beginning of their journey is worthy of celebration as well.
“Congratulations on taking the first step of this incredible expedition,” he said. “Embrace the adventure, make lasting memories, and savor the journey that lies ahead.”