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NOVAK: Our future built on grit

This past week, I watched both our men's and women's basketball teams lose in the final seconds of a hard-fought contest. The mother of a senior basketball player seated behind me remarked, "It's just so hard to see your kids work this hard and lose."

As a mother, I agree. As parents, it is hard to watch such heartfelt efforts end in a loss.

However, at this game, and at this time of the academic year when our students begin their final preparations for their senior capstone project presentations, or music majors prepare for their final juried recitals, or student actors prepare for their final theatrical production of the year, I am reminded of the importance of one word: grit.

Angela Duckworth's book, "Grit," defines this characteristic as a firmness of character, an indomitable spirit, a perseverance and passion for long-term goals. As much as we may hurt, as parents, to see our children lose or not succeed as we had hoped, we can perhaps take a bit of comfort in knowing that such setbacks serve as a learning experience.

I continue to be inspired by the grit I see in so many of our young adults. Believe me when I say that it takes grit to be an offensive lineman who gets knocked down multiple times per game and still stands back up and returns to his position.

It takes grit to master a Bach piano concerto along with 12-15 other pieces for a senior juried recital. It takes grit to spend hours on a science fair project monitoring results and preparing for a final presentation. It takes grit to receive critique from a teacher, mentor or coach, and to commit to learning from the mistake. It takes grit to lose in double overtime and walk off the court dedicated to practicing harder, and working longer, so that maybe next year's outcome is different.

Grit requires both a mental and physical commitment. Grit is not going through the drill because one has mentally understood it and then physically engaging the drill with lackluster effort. Grit is both the mental mastery of what one is trying to accomplish coupled with the physical effort to finish the task, achieve the goal or master the movement.

When I hear community members lament the tragic direction of our youth and young adults, I grow weary of an unfortunate and misleading narrative. Instead, I remain continually impressed by the mental, physical and emotional grit our students demonstrate in their management of academic, co-curricular and faith-inspired activities.

Grit matters in our workplaces and our world. Grit will define our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive, global economic environment. Grit accelerates success.

In our recent revisions to the DWU curriculum, we have begun discussing how we help students see the value of failure and the importance of grit. In an educational environment where failing has a negative connotation, we are attempting to remove the stigma of failure and replace it by acknowledging that failure can be a transformational learning moment.

When I watch young women and men pick themselves up after a tough loss, I know that a powerful life lesson is embedded in their experience. Grit develops from loss. Grit develops from disappointment. Grit develops from failure.

So while I, like many of our Tiger fans in this community and across the country, would have preferred a little less heartbreak, I'm inspired by how our student leaders on these teams demonstrated grit — by speaking across social media about what they learned and what they aspire to do differently next year. In these experiences and countless others, we are honing our grit, developing our resiliency, and propelling ourselves forward, committed to changing the outcome the next time around.

When our students in their DWU applied leadership class experience an untenable situation, grit helps them navigate the outcome. When the first in the family to attend college leaves Los Angeles for Mitchell, South Dakota, it takes grit to persist and graduate.

When a young person finds himself in America, having crossed the border as a young child, and navigates an immigration system for ten years before securing his citizenship, it takes grit and persistence. When a lesbian student transcends the insults and snide comments to become an immensely effective student senate leader, it demonstrates grit.

These young people are our future. If their current performance in their academic and co-curricular lives suggests anything, it suggests that they are developing grit, and all of us who ponder our future — as a community, state, and nation — should find this very reassuring.