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2020 OBHS Prefect - Liam Connolly

The Last Word

Liam Connolly —

Today I’m going to talk about reaching our full potential. Now, inherently that’s a misleading title because it insinuates that everyone has a finite potential and our goal is to get as close to that as possible.

This is simply not true. Everyone in this room has infinite potential. It may seem a bit far fetched to say that you have infinite potential. But the truth is that the events in our life are not predetermined. We all have the highest degree of control over our own lives. We get to choose exactly how we act every single second of every single day. Through this, there are infinite possibilities in regards to our lives and the future that we have. No-one is holding our hand through it all.

That idea seems comforting on the surface. Being able to achieve all of our goals if we set our minds to it. Not letting circumstance define us. In reality, though, it’s terrifying. Stumbling towards futures we hardly know exist and having no way to comprehend what these futures might be. It can be hard to find a reason to keep going. Constantly working towards a goal we might not even realise exists. But we all have one goal. Simply to discover our potential and decide what aspects of this potential we wish to explore.

Now, this doesn’t mean we will all reach our full potential in all areas. You may never get to be a professional rugby or basketball player. But we need to push ourselves to reach our full potential in something, otherwise, we’re going to be blindly pursuing futures that as well as being unknown, are likely to be mediocre.

The one aspect of the conversation surrounding fulfilling our potential that frustrates me is the label of ‘smart’. No-one is naturally smart and anyone that tells you otherwise either has a defeatist attitude or wants to prevent you from excelling. I’m of the opinion that genetics has very little to do with intelligence and even less to do with success. The most important thing is your attitude and finding your internal motivation. Something that school sometimes isn’t the best at teaching. We are praised at a young age for good work and are taught to thrive off this praise. For too many however, when this praise dries up, so does our own internal drive.

Now, I’m not the person to be giving advice on how you should reach all of your goals and to be completely honest I’m not sure if even the best motivational speaker on earth is capable of that. What I can do however is give a little advice about school, and reaching your full potential here. For many, school isn’t the potential they are so worried about. What you need to remember though is the idea of infinite potential and that even if you see yourself somewhere different, you are completely capable excelling here too.

School can be a very divisive process. Being constantly compared to those around you and at the end of the year ranked against everyone in your age group. I think this is something that encourages excellence, but this should be emphasised far less. Individual learning needs to have the most priority. But I will indulge in it for a moment for the sake of simplicity.

You’ll never know what your potential is if you don’t try. And that’s the first step. Picking up a book and starting. When it comes to internals it is all about just putting in the time. I often hear people bragging about doing an internal in one night or that an essay only took an hour or so. But we all know there is no hack. Sadly time and effort are directly correlated with success. My advice though is to make sure the work you do is focused. And remember, nothing is perfect the first time around. Mastery of any skill just takes time.

When it comes to my advice for tests and exam season, it’s all about using your time wisely. You can’t spend 24/7 studying, so the time you do spend should maximise productivity. We all learn in different ways, and the good thing about high school is it is an opportunity to work out the way that you learn. It’s just practice.

So, intelligence is not predetermined and the only limit to your potential is your perception. That is not to say you’ll never fail at anything, but it’s how you react to it that makes the difference. And finally, put in the effort, actually do some study, it's not that hard and it’s all about discovering what works for you. Even if it doesn’t work out at first, you can at least be proud you pushed yourself and if you continue, I can guarantee you’ll improve.

In Otago Boys’ High School tradition, I will end with a quote “I was never really good at anything except for the ability to learn.” - Kanye West