Slow and steady wins the race

A fourth-year trustee offers advice on how doggedness can triumph against any obstacle

On my seventh birthday, I received a birthday present from my parents that I will always cherish. This birthday gift was not a toy, a doll, or an awesome Game Boy that most “90s kids” asked for. It was a book of Aesop’s fables.

I began reading the fables and especially enjoyed “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Those that know the timeless classic know that the fable is about a hare who constantly derides a slow tortoise. One day, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race. Halfway through the competition, the hare decides to take a nap, confident that he can sleep for a little while and still win. In the meantime, the tortoise slowly but steadily makes its way to the finish line and wins the race. As a child, I thought “The Tortoise and the Hare” was only a fun, fictional story to read, but Aesop’s fables are a larger, meaningful collection of short stories that convey morals. I now realize that my parents did not just give me this book to simply read for pleasure, rather they gave it to me as a way to look at life.

Looking back, “The Tortoise and the Hare” parallels my four years here at the University. Life at U.Va. is much different than from high school. Most of us are away from home for the first time and competing for grades against peers who were selected with comparable academic achievements. Most students are stunned when they receive a grade in college that they never would have imagined receiving in high school, and I was not an exception — especially being in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. I chose to become an engineer because I enjoyed studying math and science; however, I never would have expected that I would have such a rigorous workload nor did I anticipate the amount of time that group projects would consume! Solving math problems or performing experiments always came easy to me, but I must admit that U.Va.’s engineering school is full of geniuses! There is always someone who can understand quantum physics concepts better, solve a differential equation faster, or destroy the “bell curve” grading system by receiving a 92 percent when the class’s average test score was a 42 percent.

I quickly learned that the best way to stay competitive with my peers was to apply determination and put extra effort into my work. For me, this included forming study groups with friends, doing extra practice problems that are not assigned, visiting professor office hours and/or T.A. office hours, and meticulously checking and re-checking group projects. Although the course material in engineering got tougher and tougher each year, I have managed to endure and accomplish each semester successfully.

Of course, at first with all the frustrations, you often do not realize you are making any progress at all; but, with time, you discover a thing or two that actually does work for you. Stick with it. Although it might take a few rounds, do not give up. Keep trying. Any effort you make in the right direction is worthwhile.

Just like the tortoise, slowly and steadily, I am finishing up my undergraduate engineering degree and making my way toward the finish line at U.Va. As graduation — or, more formally, Final Exercises — approaches, I realize that my time at the University has gone by way too fast, and it has been four wonderful years that I will cherish for a lifetime. I know that the race does not end here, even after I receive my diploma and graduate from Mr. Jefferson’s University. Life is like a marathon — there will be both accomplishments, as well as challenges. Doggedness can triumph against any obstacle and it all pays off when you cross the finish line.

Irene Y. Kwon is a fourth-year trustee.

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