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23 April 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
Race to the Finish

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

For college students, this is the time of year when every day is a strenuous step in the race to finish classes and for some, finish school altogether and graduate. The spring semester at Jacksonville State University will be over in less than two weeks. The starting block is well behind, and with the finish line in sight, now is the test of perseverance.

Although many of us are not experiencing the stresses of school directly, we can all empathize with the feeling of running a race. Starting a new project at work or prepping for home improvement also places you at a starting line similar to the one students see at the beginning of a new semester. Once you cross the line there is no turning back. Pain, gain, pain, gain; each step is a diligent progression to a hopeful completion.

What do you do when you hit the infamous wall? When a marathon runner “hits a wall” during a race, his body feels like it is shutting down while fatigue is setting in. The wall is that point where you just do not think you can go on with the speed and stamina with which you first set out.

A messenger in ancient Greece once ran 26 miles in 490 BC from Marathon to Athens to let the Athenians know not to surrender to the Persian fleet. The legend is that this runner dropped dead due to exhaustion shortly after delivering the message. We can feel this same fatigue in today’s world as well. The modern marathon is 26.2 miles, 262 emails and 2 small mouths to feed, bathe and bed in 62 minutes.

Whether you are a student studying for comprehensive finals, at the office with a mound of paperwork on your desk or trying to get excited children to bed after a long day, you can hit a wall making it seem impossible to finish.

I advise stressed students completing a semester of rigorous studies to take one step at a time. It may help to recall a story you might have heard as a child, The Tortoise and the Hare, attributed to Aesop. After running full speed, the hare stops to take a nap during the race and when he wakes up, he has already been beaten by the tortoise that kept moving steadfastly through the twists and turns of the course.

The life lesson presented at the end of the fable is “slow and steady wins the race.” It is not simply legend or a fable that college students have been known to wait until the last minute to study, spending the entire night before a test cramming information into their minds only to sleep through an exam from pure exhaustion.

I wish all the best to all undergraduate students and graduates at the end of the school year. Preparation and diligence help pave a path worth running no matter the circumstance. The finish line is in sight.

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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