Gavin Gross

Gavin Gross '19
Hobart Student Address
August 27, 2018

Thank you, Dean Hussain.

Jack Canfield, an American author is quoted as saying, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” I decided to begin with this quote about fear with you today because I was fortunate enough to gain advice from a professor here at HWS very early in my career about my biggest fear. Now before I share with you what that fear is, I want you to look to the left and then look to the right. There is a 75 percent chance that one of the people to the right or left of you shares the same fear I do.  That fear is called glossophobia, which if you are unsure what it means, it is the fear of exactly what I am doing standing in front of all of you right now: public speaking.

During the summer between my first year and sophomore years, I got the opportunity to study at Taiwan University in Taipei. It was an intensive Mandarin summer program and as part of the of the final project, we each had to give a presentation in front of the entire language school− a room full of about 150 people.  When I stood up to present, I lost feeling in my legs. I began to speak to the crowd and my voice trembled uncontrollably and I could not understand why until I looked down to discover my legs were shaking. I kept telling them to stop but there was nothing I could do. Adding to the trembling of my voice was the fact that I was speaking another language, thus most people in the room could barely comprehend what I was saying. 

It is difficult to describe the facial expressions I received that day, but I will tell you that nothing is worse than realizing a room of 150 people are focused on listening to you speak and the majority of the room does not understand anything you are trying to convey.

When I finally made it off stage and back to my apartment, I told myself I would never put myself through a humiliating experience like that again, speaking in front of a crowd of people. Fast forward two years and I am standing in front of all of you.

The truth is the initial statistic I shared with you is not factual. That is because 75 percent of all your fears are not speaking in public, but 75 percent of all you are simply afraid of failing. Public speaking is public…very public. Our fear is actually failing in front of an audience. But the great thing about HWS is that the people to the right and left of you are the exact audience you want to fail in front of. That was the advice I was given early on in my career here at HWS: “There is no better place to fail than here.” 

People will often tell you failure is important, but neglect to tell you that the most important time in your life to fail is right here. That is what makes this place special: the small community, a little over 2,000 of us, where you will be able to form relationships with not just your friends and your roommates, but also your professors, coaches, RAs, career counselors, and even the president. That is why here at HWS it is so much easier to join a club sport you have never played before, study abroad in a place you have never been, or take a class in a subject you are unfamiliar with− because you have a network of support that will help you when you fall.

In fact, last spring was by far most challenging semester when I studied in Nanjing, China. But the one thing I still remember from that experience, although I was thousands of miles away from school, I still had the support of HWS. For instance, my advisor Professor Drennen was emailing me, asking me about my experience and giving me recommendations on places to drink coffee. Professors Zhou and Wu were also emailing with me back and forth to see how I was holding up…and I am sure they will both be proud when I end this speech today with a Chinese idiom or chengyu, which has an English translation of “failure is the mother of success.” Because being able to fail here – with this support network and with these people – has made all the difference to me. It’s changed my life. And it will change yours too. Thank you.