ICYMI: Why you need to read Professor Coward’s viral email

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Look, we all had a rough week, all right?

We had some classes canceled on Wednesday, days of rain and, most recently, one of the biggest losses in Big Game history. So it can seem a bit easy to sulk and think this was a completely shit week. Because it was. But this isn’t going to be a post about sulking or about whether the strike was right. There’s one bright spot that we shouldn’t overlook. And, in the face of the craziness of the past week, its positive message becomes all the more relevant.

For the 12 of you who haven’t read it, Professor Coward sent an email to his classes this past Wednesday. It starts out by explaining why Coward (who currently teaches Math 1A at Cal) didn’t cancel class the day of the strike. But it quickly grows into a long monologue on many topics, from education to individual agency. He must have been typing this thing for days. Here are just five of the highlights:

1. “I think it’s also worth reflecting a little on the broader relationship between politics and your education…”

2. “Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you focusing on your education is a selfish thing. It’s not a selfish thing. It’s the most noble thing you could do.”

3.  “Society is investing in you so that you can help solve the many challenges we are going to face in the coming decades, from profound technological challenges to helping people with the age old search for human happiness and meaning.”

4.  “Like it or not, I have to make a political choice, and I have to talk to you about it. For me, the choice not to strike is quite easy, but for you the kinds of judgements and choices you are going to face in your lives are going to be far from easy; they are going to be of a complexity and importance that will rival that faced by any previous generation.”

5. “A previous generation dodged the bullet of nuclear armageddon when things looked bleak, but for your generation the bullets are coming thicker and faster than ever before. The potential all of you in your generation are going to have for both good and harm is tremendous. ”

Wow. Judging by the number of Facebook shares it got, many seemed to consider the letter to be, from top to bottom, absolutely freaking brilliant.

Perhaps it’s because Coward could have taken this letter to harp on the strikers or to make his own claim. A smaller person probably would have. Instead, he took it as a chance to explain the importance of education. In a world where most people live below the poverty line, that’s important to remember. We might feel bummed that we bombed a midterm here or there (hello, CS 61A), but Coward’s right: We are extremely lucky to be offered an education at such a prestigious university — or, in fact, at any college at all.

What really seemed to captivate people, though, was the sheer positive energy that flowed from Coward’s words. In the environment of a strike so charged, so decisive, he was able to remind us that we still mean something. That we should never let bumps in the road (of which we’ve had plenty this week) throw us off kilter. We’ll let the man speak for himself:

“One of the things you can lose track of when you attend a top tier university like Berkeley is just how exceptional and amazing you really are. I’m blown away every time I talk to you. The way you ask penetrating questions, the way you improved so much between midterm 1 and 2, the way you challenge me to be a better teacher, it just knocks my socks off. You really are amazing. I’ve taught students all over the world, and I’ve never seen a group of students so talented. I’m not just talking about some of you. I’m talking about all of you.”

Holy crap. This is what we need to remember. We persevere. We don’t give up. We are Golden Bears, and through thick and thin, we make it.

Why is this so important? Because UC Berkeley is a big place, and it can be easy to feel outclassed and outdone. From that future CEO across from you in class to the challenges of a college lifestyle, it can all be pretty overwhelming. Classes are hard. Life is harder.

And, as Coward points out, it’s easy to forget just how awesome you are.

So what if we lost the Big Game? There will be many more. So what if we bomb a midterm? We’ll learn from it. Do better. Work harder. Because that’s just what we do. That’s how we got here, and that’s how we’ll get where we need to go.

So next time you have a rough week, fellow Golden Bear, remember Coward’s words. Because you don’t need to prove yourself.

You’ve done that just by being here. Now go do amazing things.


Image source: A Gude under Creative Commons

Contact Sherdil Niyaz at [email protected]