Are you a freshman who didn’t read Making the Impossible Possible? Don’t want to be bored out of your mind at Convocation today? You’re certainly not alone.
To save you from excruciating boredom and the possible awkwardness if you are called upon, here’s my SparkNotes version of the major points of the memoir:
Author: Bill Strickland, who will be speaking at Convocation.
Plot summary: Strickland, once a boy raised in the ghettos of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, finds himself lost and in utter despair amongst the grime of his once flourishing town. After a literal life-changing encounter with his pottery teacher, Frank Ross, Strickland decides to help other downtrodden kids discover their passions. After a lasting struggle, Strickland finds a beautiful and massively successful training school for disadvantaged people of all ages called Manchester Bidwell. He helps create a meaningful life for them and himself along the way.
“Keep these pictures in your head,” I told the kids. “Keep this feeling with you.”
“You change a person’s life, you change your own life, by giving yourself a chance to experience what a good life feels like––a little taste of swing.”
Years before the creation of Manchester Bidwell, Strickland brings the kids from Manchester to a summer arts fair to exhibit their ceramic pieces The fair, set in a gorgeous community outside of the city, is a refreshing change of scenery for both the boys and Strickland.The day lifts their spirits and gives them a confidence boost, as their work is seen and complimented by affluent people from the town.
The smell, look, and feel of this environment is a memory Strickland never wants the boys to forget. Being in an encouraging environment produces the incentive to maintain the feeling experienced the boys experienced there. Inhabiting a disgusting, broken down school with careless teachers, for example, produces the opposite effect.
“He forgot how things are supposed to be and just trusted his vision.”
Strickland’s references Frank Lloyd Wright’s impossible Fallingwater house. Wright had risked millions building the house over a waterfall, rejecting the pessimistic comments of his advisors. The result was a house that to this day is considered one of the most beautiful and famous in the world. Strickland relates this house to jazz music, which along with pottery, is one of the two passions that catalyzes Strickland’s quest for fulfillment.
The most well-respected jazz musicians trust their gut when writing music, rather than playing what’s expected, “Playing an A-minor chord when anyone who knows anything about music would expect him to play a B-flat minor.” In short, trust yourself before the status-quo.
“Now is the only solid reality you can count on.”
“An authentic life is not something we pursue, it’s something that must be created out of the passion and values that matter to us each day.”
This idea is straight forward: live in the present and make every moment count.
“The best way to live your life is with the assumption that your purpose on the planet is to strive, in some way appropriate to your means and talents, to make a difference. To save, in essence, a little part of the world.”
Strickland leaves us with this thought on page 227. Through his mission to inspire people one by one to to save his hometown, only a fraction of the world, Strickland inspired thousands. By making a difference in himself, he changed the course of the lives of hundreds of people.
I was reminded of this message by a quote from UGBC President Matthew Nacier at a welcome assembly last Friday:
“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”
Can’t wait to see you all at Convocation!