Elena Nguyen’s poem, In Progress, and Shavoni Yarborough’s essay, The Path of Wisdom: From Awareness to Action, were chosen by Spencer Center staff and fellows as the winners of the 2011–12 Mary Baldwin University theme student competition. Both students presented their works at the annual faculty forum at the Spencer Center on February 23.
Each year a theme is chosen to unite the college community around a central idea that fosters civic and global engagement. The theme provides definition to the academic year and a way to link together the work of students, faculty, and staff from all disciplines and programs. Past years’ themes have included Power, Heart, Maps, and Voices. The theme for 2011–12 is Wisdom.
Students in all undergraduate and graduate programs are invited each year to write an essay or produce a creative piece (e.g. original musical composition, drawing, sculpture, video, poem, or performance) that addresses the theme and its relation to civic engagement in a global context. The winning entries are presented at an annual forum.
In addition to the presentation of Nguyen’s and Yarborough’s works, faculty members Paul Callo, Lowell Lemons, Edward Scott, and Abby Wightman formed a panel discussion at the forum to explore the concept of wisdom from the perspective of each of their disciplines.
Nguyen said when crafting her poem for a class assignment, In Progress, she drew from her experience shadowing doctors in the operating room. The senior from Reston is a student in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted. She is a psychology major pursuing minors in both creative writing and biology.
“I realized that the human connection I had witnessed and the wisdom that I gained from seeing that connection could be applied to any situation,” Nguyen said. “Whether it is in an operating room in the United States, or in an orphanage in Zambia, the capacity that people have to reach out to their communities and serve others is based on an innate human wisdom that recognizes the strength of unity and the power of compassion.”
Yarborough, from Fredericksburg, will graduate in May with a degree in Health Care Administration. She said she was inspired to write the essay by “many of the amazing people that I have met through the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.”
“I have witnessed students and faculty alike discuss a variety of subjects with passion and the wisdom necessary to realize that even though theoretical and hypothetical assertions are nice, action is what drives a message or belief,” Yarborough said. “Through this action, change can occur and may result in an entire community’s ability to persevere.”
By Elena Nguyen ’12
It was not until I was there—
not until I saw the overhead lights
like a mosquito’s compound eye
with its fifty thousand corneas in focus,
not until I felt the busy movement around me,
felt the straps of the sterile
mask on my neck that I knew
I was close—
fingertips so close to the scalpel hand,
the clockwork mind,
the motor-piston heart
I had always wanted.
But when the cavity was open,
when the flesh was pulled back
in its plastered iodine—like a yellow
potato sack peeled,
fruit of the earth desecrated,
clamped to the side as they
ripped the jaw in half and
grabbed the sides like rubber flaps—
I no longer knew.
Is this what I would have to do?
Tape the eyes shut and
hide the face under
synthetic nylon cloths
while I made my incision—
cold, cutting steel,
a permanent mark
on the carcass whose steady breath,
whose pulsing veins, were all but
It was not until they put in the sutures—
when they sewed her up
with stitches gingerly sealing,
careful hands almost caressing
when they washed the blood
out of her hair, absolved the stains gently
from each delicate strand—
that I began to understand.
I realize now, looking at the patient
smiling in consciousness,
what I could never know through
and shackle-bound books
about how atoms collided;
how to be like them,
to release some kind of euphoria
as every molecule in every hair,
every fiber, tissue, muscle
bones cradled in bones,
souls ignited in friction,
the body a catalyst
for the wanton wonderlusts of the world.
The Path of Wisdom: From Awareness to Action
By Voni Yarborough ’12
Wisdom is acknowledging that we, as a people, through unity, cooperation, common purpose, and community engagement can incite great change. Possessing wisdom is not limited to those with an IQ that is greater than 120, nor is it limited to those with doctoral degrees; Wisdom relies on being aware — being aware that although it is claimed that “ignorance is bliss,” change is only accomplished through awareness.
Wisdom is having faith. It is having faith in a purpose, or even a person. It is having the
belief that, even when facing probable defeat, the very attempt to make a difference in someone else’s life is worth the chance of failure. It is all too easy to say what you do not believe in. I believe, with every fiber of my existence, that wisdom is taking initiative. In a world where we are often faced with discouraging messages and ideologies touting individualism as a supreme way of thought, possessing the capacity to feel empathy, the capacity to act on moralistic instinct, is wisdom.
The great philosophers Lennon and McCartney once stated that they “get by with a little
help from [their] friends.” This embodies wisdom, because when we are faced with difficult
tasks, we may feel defeated and give up on deserving causes. However, with encouragement
and support from our community members and peers, we can overcome challenges. Becoming
fully integrated into a community is not synonymous with lacking independence or leadership.
Community involvement requires transformational leadership, leadership that motivates and
inspires people from all walks of life, connecting everyone with a common mission, vision, and goal.
Wisdom is not just having a mission where your current aspirations or your connections
to the needs of a given community are addressed. Wisdom is also having a vision — where plans for the future development and preservation of a community are conveyed. A community has, by having a mission and vision that align with the needs of a people, a guideline by which to assess its progress. Becoming attuned to the needs and plights of individuals can assist in taking the initiative towards change.
Not everyone feels they can change the world, but everyone should feel that they can
change their community, their home. If everyone were to take the initiative to address the
injustice in their neighborhoods, the world would be a more equitable and comfortable place to
live. Wisdom is having the courage to believe in something, and to act on those beliefs. Wisdom
is understanding that, although you may only make a small impact in “the grand scheme of
things,” there is great virtue to having made an impact at all.