Higher Ed, Public Health, Students

Inspiration for a new year—especially for our returning students

January 9, 2017

Welcome back, especially to Gillings students! We welcome your return. In this post, we offer suggestions for a successful semester and for life.

Selectively sharing some sage advice

I have various rituals that I practice when anticipating a new year. Everyone has them. We make dinner plans with people we rarely get to see, I spend extra time working out and with family, do a major clean-out of paper in my office (resolving to accumulate less in the year to come), cook more than usual (which is almost anything, since I rarely cook), start work on our tax return, and try to reflect on where our School is, where we’ve been and where we should be headed. I also read and look for people who can inspire me in the year ahead. With all the discord around the U.S. presidential election and anticipating more to come, I particularly appreciate people who can provide perspective on life and science policy. In this post, I’ll cover life advice, and next week, science policy.

Sheryl Sandberg on life, loss and resilience


Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook. (She also is author of Lean In, 2013.) A little over a year ago, while they were on vacation in May 2015, her husband Dave Goldberg died tragically and way too young, leaving behind Sandberg and their two children. She gave the commencement speech at UC-Berkeley last May, and it was the first time she spoke publicly about her loss. The speech is raw, powerful and moving. It includes some hard-learned life lessons from which we all can benefit—whether or not we’ve suffered as she has. One of the most powerful lessons is about resilience. In public health, we talk about resilient communities and resilience after disasters and tragedies. We’re learning that resilience may be one of the critical differences between people who surmount bad things and those who don’t.

Here’s what Sandberg said about it. (Substitute “the Gillings School” when she references Berkeley.)

And when the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.

Class of 2016, as you leave Berkeley (Gillings), build resilience. Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strikes, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.

Build resilient organizations. If anyone can do it, you can, because Berkeley (Gillings) is filled with people who want to make the world a better place. Never stop working to do so—whether it’s a boardroom that is not representative or a campus that’s not safe. Speak up, especially at institutions like this one, which you hold so dear. My favorite poster at work reads, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” When you see something that’s broken, go fix it.

Build resilient communities. We find our humanity—our will to live and our ability to love—in our connections to one another. Be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji.

Lift each other up… and celebrate each and every moment of joy.

You have the whole world in front of you. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

I especially appreciate the advice about when you see something broken, go fix it. It’s how we’ll create a better Gillings School and a better world.

Students, best wishes for a wonderful semester. None of us can get through life without disappointment or loss. But we can come back from those experiences. As Sandberg wrote, you are more resilient than you think. Time and again, as I look around the Gillings School, I am awed and inspired by the challenges our people have overcome, and how they have faced them with grace and dignity. We lost two of our finest faculty members in 2016, Miriam Labbok and Steve Wing. They never lost their passion for or commitment to the causes and academic areas to which they’d devoted their professional lives. In so many ways, not just in life and death, but also in the ordinary challenges of life, our Gillings people are extraordinary. Check out Sandberg’s speech. There are some good life tips that just may help you in the semester and years ahead. And don’t hesitate to ask for help. That’s part of resilience, too. We’re here for you when you need us.

Welcome back! Best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe and rewarding 2017.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.