During my first week in Virginia I attended a an assembly on the Lawn, the focal point of the University of Virginia, along with all the other first-year students. We were welcomed to the University; we signed the Honor pledge; and on each of our chairs there was a nickle, which, of course, bears the image of our founder: Thomas Jefferson. Every day that I have been in Nicaragua I have carried that nickel in my wallet.
I have an interesting relationship with my university. Talk to almost anyone who went to UVA and they will tell you the same thing. It is a trait that connects us to each other and occasionally earns the ire/scorn (*cough*envy) of those who don't understand it. The University of Virginia is my university in a way that is somewhat akin to the way that my parents are my parents. That is to say, it is somewhat of an error to use the possessive. The only claim I can make on my parents is that I owe them my existence and that it was their care and nurturing that made me into the person I am today. It is a similar (though admittedly much smaller) claim that I make on Mr. Jefferson's University. Without its ideals, without its dedication to excellence, integrity, and service, without the people I met there and the things we learned and did together, I wouldn't be where or who I am today.
One of the biggest challenges of the Peace Corps life is staying motivated. Getting out the door is the first obstacle. I've always had a thing about doors, gates, and the significance of crossing thresholds. My time at UVA definitely accentuated that affinity. The gate leading to each and every garden is unique. If you peer through the keyhole of the Rotunda door you are looking right at the statue of Thomas Jefferson. And above certain doors, and certain gateways, there are inscriptions. Two of these inscriptions are particularly significant to me.
First, a word about motivation. Motivation isn't a trick. It isn't about bargaining with yourself. It's about remembering why you made a decision in the first place and then finding the drive to follow through. Remembering is all about being reminded, having something on your finger, or on your wrist, or in front of your eyes so that you can't forget. In college, most of my classes were in one particular building. That building had a door, an out of the way, side-door on the south-west corner. Above that door was an inscription:
You are here
to enrich the world
and you impoverish yourself
if you forget the errand.
I now have the same words written on the door to my refrigerator, right in front of my eyes as I sit in my hammock (which I do a lot). It is a warning against pride and vanity and it is a reminder that the harder I work and the more I put myself out there, the more I get back in return. (There are five other inscriptions on my refrigerator, but that's for another day.)
The second inscription that was particularly meaningful to me at UVA was found above an archway marking an entrance to central Grounds. Exactly where I don't think I'll say, but it now hangs above my front door so that I have to walk under it every time I leave the house.
By this Gateway
The Way of Honor
The Light of Truth
And the Will to work for Men
I used to go out of my way to walk through that archway. Sure, it is just a collection of brick and mortar with some words over it. Choosing to walk through it, however, was my way of accepting its charge. Now it is just a piece of paper duct-taped to the wall, but I hope I would take it down before I would idly walk under it.
There are many other things I could have talked about in my tribute to UVA and its contribution to my Peace Corps service. I could have mentioned the Virginia flag proudly hung on my bedroom wall or the fact that when I'm really down in the dumps I put on my UVA shorts and my C-Ville 10-miler t-shirt. I could have talked about how I felt when my green Virginia baseball cap abandoned me to continue its adventures alone or my offering to buy a security guard friend a new hat when he showed up to work wearing one that was a frightful combination of maroon and orange. But those are just funny stories. My real tribute to the University of Virginia isn't wearing the right colors, but rather having the right motivation when I walk out the door.