Don’t Ask Yourself Why, Ask Yourself Why Not

During the 2015 Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) welcome ceremony, Dean James Ryan asked the hundreds in attendance to approach this year not by asking why, but by asking why not.

Though Ryan’s advice could be broadly applicable to many aspects of one’s future at Harvard, I took it as a challenge to spend my time at HGSE making a bold and impactful difference. To elaborate, when you are a student at Harvard, you are continually surrounded by wonderfully intelligent and emotionally gifted people. From classes to extra-curricular activities, it quickly becomes apparent how genuinely talented and well-qualified your fellow classmates are (e.g., on my third day in the dining hall, I sat next to someone who had won an Olympic gold medal. Immediately, I felt insignificant as I ate my off-brand Fruity Pebbles). Thus, even though HGSE boasts a welcoming and encouraging environment, being bold can actually be quite intimidating.

However, when I asked myself why not, I often realized the only thing holding me back was my own hesitation.

From little things: Should I take a two three-hour break from writing a policy report to watch Netflix? Why not?

To big things: should I propose setting up a school-wide athletic tournament to promote physical health before it starts snowing? Why not?

I have come to appreciate that asking myself why does much less for me—and the difference I hope make—than asking myself why not.

Therefore, whether you are a prospective applicant or a current student, I encourage you to also consider Dean Ryan’s call to action. Like me, you might find the simple question turn out to be a compass guiding you to make choices not on fear, but more so—on potential.

Daniel Dickey is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education, and was elected the Chief Financial Officer and Higher Ed Senator for the HGSE Student Council. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Daniel taught high school English in an urban school as a Teach For America corps member.

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