The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Photo by Will Huang

Photo by Will Huang

On Sept.1, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president, Sam Lambert, gave a speech to all first-year Wilfrid Laurier University students during the opening ceremonies for Orientation Week. Starting his speech, he said he wanted to say what he would have wanted to hear when he sat in those stands as a first year.

After telling some stories about his childhood and teenage years, Sam told everyone in the room that he is gay. I repeat this not to sensationalize what he has done, but to recognize that coming out in front of almost 3000 people in one night is very courageous.

But then he brought up one of the most widely known prayers in Christianity, the serenity prayer: “May my faith grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change those things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” For Sam, rather than faith being the source of that serenity, it was arriving at Laurier that changed his life, because Laurier “doesn’t worry about the things you can’t change.”

After seeing Sam’s speech, I felt uncomfortable. As a member of the queer community myself, I was in awe of him for coming out as bluntly as he did, but as a Laurier student, I didn’t like his message.

I don’t necessarily think that Sam is wrong in saying that Laurier “doesn’t worry about the things you can’t change,” but I don’t think he got what makes Laurier so special entirely right either.

I was diagnosed with depression early in second year and it was evident that my depression was of the kind that I would need anti-depressants to help with. That is a part of who I am. I have clinically diagnosed depression and the Laurier community did support me in that. I was still able to work for the school and volunteer with WLUSU even though I was open about it.

But what made that experience special, and what makes Laurier special, is not that it accepted me for what I couldn’t change, but that it supported my desire to change.

Sam brought up the serenity prayer, but only talked about the first part. However, the most important part is the end. Laurier doesn’t say “you are who you are when you arrive, and we will support you in that.” Laurier is better than that. Laurier gives us the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can’t change and those things that we can.

Laurier gives students the courage to change what they wish to change about themselves and about the world. Laurier is not perfect, but there are people at this school who will not let you wallow in what you think you are. They won’t let you succumb to limitations you put on yourself. Instead, they will inspire you and support you in becoming who you want to be.

That’s what I wanted to hear from the president of WLUSU when I was in my first year. That’s what I want every first year at this school to know, and I think Sam would agree with me. I just wish he had focused less on the things we can’t change, and more on the wisdom to know the difference.

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