MacGillivray, Chadderton give First Lectures
Senior biological sciences and psychology major Lindsay MacGillivray and civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy double major Colin Chadderton gave lectures on the meaning of success last Thursday. The talks took place in Porter Hall, and were part of a series called “The First Lectures,” an initiative hosted by Student Senate and spearheaded by first-year economics and statistics double major Vaasavi Unnava. “The First Lectures” were meant as a homage to Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, which talked about achieving your childhood dreams. The topic of both Chadderton and MacGillivray’s speeches was the meaning of success.
Chadderton spoke first, and took the stage dressed in a dark blue onesie, which he took off during his introduction to reveal a more conventional button-down shirt. “We’re just gonna roll with it. It’s gonna be fun,” Chadderton said. His lecture relied on PowerPoint slides that illustrated his talking points, the most salient of which were a series of “peaks and valleys” Chadderton experienced during his time at Carnegie Mellon.
Chadderton described how his first year of school was academically overwhelming, and he struggled to keep up with his classes. He stated that he compared himself to his classmates and found himself lacking. However, he eventually found his footing by asking for help and getting more organized. He said “I learned how to survive here. But to thrive here, I needed to change my definition of worth.” He went on to describe the importance of doing your best and not only comparing yourself to others. Soon after, he became an RA. Chadderton said that being part of Student Life taught him the importance of being comfortable even in uncomfortable situations and that life is a fishbowl and people are always paying attention. Therefore, it is always important to be mindful of one’s behavior.
Chadderton’s lecture also included a game of BINGO — or COLIN, in his version — to engage the audience. The terms included “comfortable in the uncomfortable,” “passion,” (the importance of which Chaddderton discussed), and “Colin sings,” (which he did, a brief line from a Les Misérables song.)
Chadderton’s final point in his lecture was the importance of accepting change, because people become extremely different over the course of a single day. Chadderton framed that as a good and natural thing, saying, “If you’re the same person you were three months ago, you aren’t doing it right.”
Fifth-year scholar in computer science Afnan Fahim said “I thought it was awesome. It was nice to see [Chadderton] put it all together. Nice to see that culmination.”
MacGillivray took a slightly different approach to the topic of success. She opened her presentation with various pieces of advice she’d received in her life, such as, “you learn the most from your friends,” which one of her friends told her, and “always undercook your brownies,” which her mother told her.
MacGillivray also discussed her academic troubles at the inception of her career here at Carnegie Mellon. She struggled, but thought that her difficulties meant that she should be at a different school. She described taking a particularly difficult calculus exam, and then crying after the test. “I thought I didn’t belong here because I couldn’t ace that calc exam,” MacGillivray said.
Unfortunately, this became a circuitous problem. As a former mechanical engineering major, MacGillivray was unhappy with her coursework. She said “I didn’t like what I was studying, so I didn’t work very hard, so I didn’t do well, which meant I didn’t like what I was studying.” Ultimately, MacGillivray changed her major to biology and psychology, with a minor in biomedical engineering, and became much happier and more successful in her classes.
The next point in MacGillivray’s lecture was a more scientific examination of what success is. She described a process of looking at brain scans and reading a wide variety of studies on what happens in the brain when people feel successful. She came to the conclusion that success begets success — as the feeling of success makes one part of the brain light up, these chemical signals can travel to different parts of the brain, which continues the cycle.MacGillivray emphasized that an important part of feeling successful is checking on one’s endeavors more frequently.
The New Year only comes once a year, and for many people, their resolutions fall by the wayside by February. GPAs, MacGillivray said, are slightly better, because those checks happen at the end of a semester, but are still too infrequent. “We’re checking after ... the numbers have been set in stone,” MacGillivray said.
MacGillivray instead urged her audience to break success down into more manageable sizes. “I propose we look at success in smaller pieces,” she said.
MacGillivray also stressed the importance of changing tactics that are not effective. “If you haven’t been successful once, you can’t just try harder.”
The audience remained engaged throughout both speeches, and their reactions were generally positive.
Fourth-year architecture major Katy Marino said, “I really liked how both of them were defining success.... It was great to see them speaking in a formal setting. They were both really well done, and well organized.”
Sophomore electrical and computer engineering and engineering and public policy double major Evan Wineland said, “I thought it was really insightful. Vaasavi saw a need for something on campus, and she took charge of the entire process. It was cool hearing from seniors in this capacity, and it’s a conversation we don’t have quite enough.”