Bert Kerstetter ’66 gave the following address while sitting on a panel of former Princeton student-athletes during Reunions Weekend 2011. The discussion focused on the myriad ways that the panelists’ undergrad and post-graduate experiences have been shaped by their participation in intercollegiate athletics. It was entitled “The Post-Game Show: Putting the Values of Princeton Athletics into Practice,” and was moderated by Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67.
I have been sort of a student on the topic of the “scholar-athlete” concept. If given the latitude, I could probably go on for hours. But today is a time to be brief.
If my remarks had a title, it would read: “Identity and Humility,” which are pretty lofty subjects. Hopefully my remarks will be relevant. The traditional arguments in support of the benefits of athletics are well known. They include:
–rules based learning
–sacrifice and resilience
Let me put my experience in context:
In 1962, I arrived at Princeton from Beaver Falls, PA. I was so naïve it was comical. I had read that I had to select courses to satisfy some strange “distribution requirement.” Without knowing the difference, I signed up for Philosophy 101, Plato; and Literature 101, Shakespeare; but, I truly did not know which one was the poet and which one was the philosopher! By October, I was confident that I was the dumbest guy in my class.
That experience was an early immersion in humility — but unrelated to athletics.
However, I graduated with an honors degree in Philosophy and was en route to Yale Law School. How did this transition happen? I firmly believe that the single most important factor was my athletic experience.
1] Why do I refer to the concept of “identity”?
“Who am I?” This question will stay with us for our entire life. The answer will be elusive. I am still asking myself that question.
Who did we think we were that September week we arrived at Princeton? You were/are in a new world.
The human condition includes a strong natural need to be part of “something or some idea that is larger than oneself.” Let me repeat for emphasis:
“…being part of something that is greater than yourself.
This lesson has had direct application for 40 years of business management and is a very powerful concept.
Athletics can be a unique source of identity.
2] Humility and Adaptation
Once you make some transition to early success, Princeton becomes a “heady” place. An inflated sense of importance can become epidemic. These experiences can be unhealthy for your ego development.
However, on the sports field you will soon find someone who is better than you….. often much better. Our football teams won 17 games in a row; but then we lost our last game to Dartmouth—a lesson that I have never forgotten.
Overconfidence can be a liability. Learning from failures is priceless.
Regardless of my world class professors, no one held me to higher standards of excellence than my coaches. My adaptation to such circumstances may have been the greatest lesson of my life. A laboratory about “excellence” that has also been priceless for the past 40-45 years.
“Reading and reacting to patterns in life” are critical skills. The University does not offer such a course. Athletics does!!”
Learn more about the panel by reading the Daily Princetonian’s event coverage here.