Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 3 Some Rocks Ahead

I feel sure that I can be of some degree of service to you tonight, in helping you to anticipate some of the troubles that you are going to meet during the coming year. "Do not look for trouble" is a safe maxim to follow, but it is equally safe to prepare for trouble.

All of you realize, of course, that where we have so large a machine as we happen to have here- when I speak of machine in this way you will understand that I refer to the school - it takes some time to get it into perfect order, or anything bordering upon perfect running order. Now, I repeat, it is the wise individual who prepares him-self before-hand for the day of difficulties, for the day of discouragements, for the rainy day. It is the wise individual, who makes up his mind that life is not going to be all sunshine, that all is not going to be perpetual pleasure. What is true of everyday life is true of school life; there are a number of difficulties which it is probable you are going to meet or which are going to meet you.

During the coming school year, and which, if possible, I want you to prepare yourselves against as wisely as you can.

In the first place, a great many of you are going to be disappointed - if this has not already been the case - in the classes to which you will be assigned. The average individual thinks he knows a great deal more than he does know. The individual who really knows more than he thinks he knows is very rare indeed. When a student gets to the point where he knows more than he knows a great deal more thank he does know. The individual who really knows more thank he thinks he knows is very rare indeed. When a student gets to the point where he knows more than he thinks he knows, that student is about ready to leave school. I wish a very large number of you had reached that point. I repeat, 'numbers of you are going to be disappointed during the year as to the classes to which you are going to be assigned.'

Now, I want to give you this advice, before you go to an institution. Examine the catalogue of that school. The catalogue will give you all the information about the school. Then make up your mind whether or not you have faith in that institution. Find out if it is the school you wish to attend, and then decide if you have faith enough in it to become its pupil. Then if you have once done this, make up your mind that those who are placed over you as your teachers have had more experience than you can have had, and that they are therefore able to advise you as to your classes. Make up your mind that if you are asked to go into a lower class than you think your ability entitles you to go into, you are going to follow the advice and instruction of the people who are older thank you and who have more education than you have.

Another way in which you are going to be disappointed, and be made homesick, perhaps, if you have not already so, is in the rooms to which you are going to be assigned. You are going to get rooms that you do not like. They will not be, perhaps, as attractive as you desire, or they will be too crowded. You are going to be given persons for room mates with whom you think it is going to be impossible to get along pleas-antly, people who are not congenial to you. During the hot months your rooms are going to be too hot, and during the cold months they are going to be too cold. You are going to meet with all these difficulties in your rooms. Make up your mind that you are going to conquer them. I have often said that the students who in the early years of this school had such hard times with their rooms have succeeded grandly. Many of you now live in palaces, compared to the rooms which those students had. I am sure that the students who attend this school find that the institu-tion is better fitted every year to take care of them than it was the year previous. From year to year there has been a steady growth in the accom-modations, and that is all that we can wish or expect. From year to year we do not forget that it is our duty to make students more comfortable than in previous years, and we are steadily growing in that direction. But notwithstanding all this we cannot do all that we want to do.

Make up your minds, then, that you are going to find difficulties in your room, in reference to your room mates, the heat, the cold, and any number of things that concern your stay in the buildings. But in all these matters keep in mind the high purpose for which you came here-to get an education. Get that thought into your heart and body, and it will enable you to be the master of all these little things, all these minor and temporary obstacles.

Many of you are going to be disappointed in regard to your food. Notwithstanding all the care we may try to take, and want to take, many of you are going to be disappointed in this respect. But how little is the meaning of one meal, how little a thing is being inconvenienced by one meal, as compared with something that is going to be a part of you all the remainder of your lives. It is not for the food, the room, or the minor things that you have come here; it is to get something into your minds and hearts that will make you better, that will stand by you and hold you up, and make you useful all through life.

Some of you are going to find it difficult to obey orders. Sometimes orders will be given you which you think are wrong and unjust. Perhaps orders will be given you sometimes that really are unjust. In that respect no institution is perfect. But I want to learn this lesson in respect to orders - that it is always best to learn to obey orders and respect authority - that it is better ten time over for you to obey an order that you know is wrong, and which per- haps was given you in a wrong spirit or with a mistaken motive. It is better for you to obey even such an order as that, thank it is for any individual to get into the habit of disobeying and not respecting those in authority.'

Make up your mind that if you want to add to your happiness and strength of character, you are, before all things else, going to learn to obey. If it should happen that for a minute, or five minutes, one of your fellow students is placed in authority over you, that student's commands should be sacred. You should obey his commands just as quickly as you would obey those of the highest officer in this institution. Learn that it is no disgrace to obey those in authority. One of the highest and surest signs of civilization is that a people have learned to obey the commands of those who are placed over them. I want to add here that it is to the credit of this institution that, with very few exceptions, the students have always been ready and willing to respect authority.

I want you to see, as I think you will see, that having a hard time, running up against difficulties here and there, helps to make an indi-vidual strong, and also helps to make him powerful. This is the point I want to make with you; that .one of the reasons you are here is that you may learn to overcome difficulties. I have named some that you may expect to meet, but I have not named them all. They will keep springing up all the time. Just in proportion as you learn to rise above them and trample them under your feet, just in that proportion-will you accomplish the high purpose for which you came here, and help to accomplish the purpose for which this institution exists.