By Brian Law
Our motto describes a clear hope: that those who have merit will be the ones rewarded with prizes and success. What I would like to propose is that the phrase only promotes a forward relationship, and not the reverse. While having merit is hopefully followed by receiving the ‘palm’, it does not exactly imply that obtaining the ‘palm’ undoubtedly marks a person as having merit.
The distinction may be slight, but it is an important one, as the interpretation we use to guide our choices has a large impact on the quality and meaningfulness of our lives. Do we aim to earn victory or do we aim for victory itself? How we answer this personal question indicates what we value, and ultimately, how we define our ‘palm’.
I believe that UCC encourages boys to believe in the first interpretation, that victory will come if we first attain merit and deserve it. The aim is not to create a sense of false hope to our youth, as it is clear that having merit does not always lead to success -and indeed, our motto is written in the subjunctive. Rather, the point is to promote the idea that pursuing and having merit is in itself a noteworthy achievement.
Character. Value. Ethics. Integrity. Hard-Work. Honour. These are characteristics that make our lives have purpose and worth, and are indeed prizes to hold in themselves.
It is not to say that there is anything wrong with chasing the ‘palm’ directly or pursuing the prize for the sake of having the prize. Certainly, obtaining a prestigious degree from a well-known school, or attaining a high paying salary, or getting a fancy job title are great achievements to have. But in doing so, we lose focus on what actually makes these prizes worthy for us to desire, and worthy for us to want to spend our lives earning.
Instead, what I would encourage is valuing the experiences, opportunities and abilities we gain from our education, not the title or institution listed on our the degrees. It means focusing on the positive changes we make through our jobs to deserve that great salary, not the salary amount itself. Subsequently, it means prizing the personal connections that we have, the knowledge that we gain and the joy we are able to impart to others, rather than the material goods we accumulate.
At UCC (and in all schools), we are taught by selfless teachers, who by definition give their lives to encourage this message. Their goal in life is to share knowledge and encourage good values, and this very act, signifies their merit, and also acts as their prize. Understanding this, it is puzzling to see graduates chasing victory without attempting to earn it first and without knowing why it is they seek it.
Ultimately, if we aim to obtain these prizes directly, we become disillusioned to believe that having these prizes is enough. But if we live by the ideals that UCC imparts, we understand that there is no definitive ‘palm’ to obtain. It is through an ongoing, lifelong pursuit of merit, integrity, and character that makes us victorious and accomplished. Indeed, our motto does hope that prizes come to those who simply merit it. I would also suggest we be careful when actually receiving ‘palm’ that we do not stop pursuing merit, for this is the ultimate ‘palm’ to bear.
Brian Law (UCC ’07) is currently pursuing a public policy masters (MPA) at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He completed his first degree in architecture at the University of Miami, but has since made the transition into the international development sector. At UCC, he was heavily involved in the arts program, participating in numerous music ensembles, theatre productions and school publications.