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During last month’s commencement festivities, Larry Culp, the chairman and CEO of GE and CEO of GE Aerospace, called on our School of Business graduates to “constantly look to learn and improve and grow … substantively, in ways that really matter.” In the classroom, in our offices and teams, and in our work beyond the borders of our campuses, we can and should always be looking for new, substantive ways to learn and improve. This notion of continuous learning and improvement (a concept known in Japanese as kaizen) is also foundational to how we act on our university’s strategic vision. 

My own approaches for continuous improvement and ongoing learning takes many forms. This summer, I will be focusing on “Three R’s:” to read (more), restore and reflect

As a lifelong learner, I have always found that compelling works of both fiction and nonfiction encourage me to expand my thinking, and my perspectives on the world. If you find that summer provides you with a reading respite, here are a few recommendations from my bookshelf this year. These works of fiction have anchors in our shared histories and in the challenges we face today: 

“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus weaves a compelling narrative about a trailblazing female chemist in the 1950s when women in chemistry were few and pathways were narrow. Fictional scientist Elizabeth Zott’s perseverance and unflagging self-assurance about her chosen profession offer lots of inspiration for readers of all ages. 

Geraldine Brooks’ novel, “Horse,” published in early 2022, uses the story of a famous American racehorse, Lexington, to weave a narrative across history – from the 1850s through the present – that reckons with America’s ties to enslavement. This novel feels particularly relevant to our national dialogue around history, identity; and how we teach about the past, see its connections in the present, and think together about our future. 

“Trust,” Hernan Diaz’s second novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, riveted me from start to finish. The book weaves together four complex narratives from different character perspectives about the life of a Wall Street tycoon and his wife leading up to the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression. 

If there are great books on your summer reading list, I welcome your recommendations!  

Finding restorative practices that work for us as individuals is also critical to supporting ongoing learning and improvement. Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese monk who was known as the “father of mindfulness,” often emphasized the importance of learning how to rest, because “rest allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” Restoration in the summer months for me includes retreating to the water. My family and I have always loved spending time on the North Carolina coast. In fact, long before I came to Wake Forest, we were heeding the call of the Outer Banks and neighboring barrier islands for family vacations. Whether it’s the sea, the mountains, a staycation, or time with family and friends, I hope you will find restorative opportunities in the coming weeks. 

With regard to the third “R,” there is indeed much to consider (and celebrate!) as I reflect on the past year. I am so proud of all our university community has accomplished together. The convergence around who we are and who we want to become resulted from our collective reflections on our hopes and aspirations for our university. The outcomes are striking and reinforce what many of us already know. Wake Forest is distinctive among great universities because of our shared commitment to our purpose, mission and values; and to embodying Pro Humanitate at home and in the world. I look forward to sharing the draft strategic framework with you as we launch the fall semester. 

As part of the three R’s of summer, I’ll be taking a break from this blog until August. If you missed a post this year, I encourage you to explore as part of your readings the below year in review. Happy summer, and Go Deacs! 

Categories: From Wente's Desk