Words from the former freshman class representative

Congratulations, you have been accepted into a great college and will be joining a community of bright minds and passionate spirits with aspirations of ...

Aug 17, 2013

Congratulations, you have been accepted into a great college and will be joining a community of bright minds and passionate spirits with aspirations of magnitudes matching your own. Members of the university have spoken with you, seen what you've done and have been inspired by your stories. You have been offered this unparalleled opportunity because we feel you have the potential and motivation to do great things.
I felt ready to take on the challenge, ready to change the world. I eagerly signed up for every Student Interest Group I saw and enrolled (engaged?) myself in every opportunity. I even ran for Freshmen Class Representative in Student Government elections and won. However, there was one crucial question I never bothered to ask myself: Who am I changing the world for?
At that point, the answer was myself.
It is so unfortunate that university admissions inspire a culture of ‘me and I.’ In order to make it to the top, to get those opportunities we've always wanted, to make the impact we've always dreamed of, we must first stack ourselves with grades and accolades to show we are worthy. However, all too often we become so accustomed to climbing the ladder of achievement that we forget our original goals. They start collecting dust in some formerly bright corner of our minds. This was me. Even after I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I just kept doing what I had been used to, what seemed almost natural. I had forgotten why I wanted to come here in the first place.
Unfortunately, I saw this tendency in others as well. Collaborations, clubs and events faltered and never reached their full potential because members cared more about what it meant for them than what impact their efforts would have on others. When the cause comes secondary, the impact is often hugely stifled. Moreover, a great opportunity is used up and produces little fruit. What a shame. Though we can't really point fingers at anyone, we would probably find the same in universities, workplaces and governments across all our countries. It's something many fall prey to, something that has become almost universal across communities. It is the small sin that we all acknowledge and quietly accept. I thought perhaps I, and we, could be the exception to the rule.
Take for a moment the story of Narcissus, the legendary Greek hunter who, upon looking at his reflection in a lake, fell in the love with the image he saw. When he realized that he could never truly be with his own reflection, he died from grief. There is something quietly tragic in circular effects, influence that begins and ends with us. In my experience, looking at your reflection stifles collaboration. If you want to do something truly meaningful, perhaps it's time to turn your gaze outwards.
Last weekend I had one of the most exciting, stimulating dinners of my life. I was sitting at a table of great minds and scholars from amongst the best schools in the world. But their backgrounds or their accolades were not what impressed me. What struck me was how these people were all there to give away their ideas. The table was filled with excitement as we exchanged details of our projects and our ideas that we'd been working on. Some even begged others to take over the projects they didn't have enough time to complete. These people didn't care about fame or prestige. They just wanted to see the amazing things they dreamed in their minds become a reality. That was what set them apart.
I hope that is what can set us apart. At the focal point of our university’s philosophy is a broad liberal arts education across a spectrum of fields so that we are well-versed and can communicate ideas deeply to other scholars of all disciplines. We have this notion of lacking a "center of gravity" as President Sexton says, so that we can have people from all walks of life bring their perspectives together. It is this prism of differences that is hypothesized to lead to untold innovation and creativity. It would be such a shame to see it not come to fruition because we are too busy looking at ourselves.
You are sitting on a goldmine of opportunity and undoubtedly have the resources to make an impact and to change the world. The main question is:
Who are you going to change the world for?
Lingliang Zhang is the former Freshman class representative and Web director for The Gazelle. Email him at
gazelle logo