December 17, 2014

The Lightbulb Moment

Glen Robinson

It’s known by several names. The “aha” moment. The “second when the switch turns on.” I call it the “lightbulb moment.”

Call it whatever you will, to many professors it is the culmination of four years of university education for their students. Actually, it’s more than that. Students who think that university is just a continuation of high school are in for a rude awakening, and unless they change their thinking, they probably won’t be around for very long.

Because learning goes well beyond memorization. It even goes beyond critical thinking, as important as that is in our environment. The lightbulb moment comes when a student leaves the period of his life where he or she thinks like a child and begins thinking like an adult.

More specifically, there comes a moment (we all hope) when each student realizes that whether they succeed or fail is really, truly up to them. Mom and Dad aren’t around any more. Professors can encourage and threaten, but they aren’t responsible for making sure students pass their classes. Even choosing the right friends can’t guarantee success—although the wrong ones can often almost guarantee failure. The lightbulb moment comes when a student looks around and realizes that there is no one else to point at when it comes to his or her future.

There are few greater rewards for a professor than seeing the lightbulb go on in a student’s life. I have seen many freshmen and sophomores struggle along, providing just the absolute minimum necessary to pass a class. And then, more than once I have seen it happen, often when they get to their junior year. They realize that the grade is not as important as what they are learning in the class, and that someday soon they will need to know this stuff to make a living. And the lightbulb goes on. Aha.

I can still remember my lightbulb moment. All through high school and college I had held a dream of becoming a writer. School gave me the excuse not to write, simply because I was “too busy.” But when I graduated, I realized that if I didn’t actually put pen to paper, my dream of writing would end up being just that, only a dream. I realized that I could do it or not do it, but that it was up to me, and then other things began falling into place as well. A job turned into a career. I became a responsible husband, and later, a father. I made sure I got up when I needed to. I began to take responsibility for my dress, my behavior, even maintenance on my car. The lightbulb moment changed my life.

And that’s what we at Southwestern want for our students. A life-changing moment. Southwestern is a place where young people meet Jesus, that’s true, and we want that for everyone here. But beyond that, we want students to become adults that move beyond excuses, beyond apologies, and on to assuming personal responsibility for their daily actions. In the eyes of most people, that’s a critical ingredient for success.

And everybody likes success.

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