In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team bus accident (referred to as simply, “the accident”), I am hoping to share 25 Things I Have Learned In 25 Years. The goal is to post once a week; but since I have a year to post, I will consider once every two weeks a win.

The Value of Criticism

There is great value in listening to our critics. I have been thinking about this since Thursday’s announcement that Vice-President Mike Pence will be the graduation speaker this May at the University of Notre Dame. Of course the University has been criticized for this selection; and I say “of course,” because every graduation speaker is criticized for one thing or another, myself included.

After I was named Notre Dame’s commencement speaker, I spoke with someone who previously had the honor: former-Indiana Governor, Joseph Kernan. He too had been deemed “not worthy” to be the speaker (despite being a war hero, a Mayor, and a Governor. If he was questioned, I had no chance.) And I remember Gov. Kernan saying to me, “Criticism comes with the privilege.” I took that to heart.

One piece of criticism that jumped out at me was from a student who bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have a Wikipedia page. As in, “Who is she? My graduation speaker is so unknown she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!”
The Midshipmen we sponsor were so offended by this, they wanted to create a Wikipedia page for me, but I stopped them. I too was experiencing the price of speaker-privilege. But I was also learning an important lesson: to listen to my critics, but not to give in to them.

“Who is she?” was a fair question. And it was one I answered in my commencement address. In a way, it helped shaped what I wanted to say. Did I give into criticism? No. But I listened.

I remember, early on in my marriage, I spoke at a Notre Dame pep rally before the Fiesta Bowl. (I followed Dick Vitale…and I learned to never do that again!) But I remember walking off the stage to where my parents and my new-husband were waiting. I asked how I did, and my parents responded (as they always do), “You were GREAT!” When I looked at my husband for his response, he said (very lovingly), “Your message was great, but we need to work on your delivery.”

Ouch.

But he was right. I can have the greatest message in the world, but it needs to be delivered in a way that engages the audience to listen. So I worked on that (a lot), and I am a much better speaker now than I was at that pep rally. But only because I listened to my critic.

If we aren’t open to criticism (hopefully, of the constructive kind) we will never learn, we will never grow and we will never reach our full potential. It is important to listen to learn, as a means of improvement. But not as a means to compromise who we are.

I still don’t have a Wikipedia page.