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Students should always strive to be more competitive

Xavier Burgin

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I recently won The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. It’s recognized nationwide and is considered to be the highest honor at UA. I believe a round of applause is in order. Thank you. Thank you. I hate each and every one of you despicable, vile husks of humanity. Excuse me; I was just channeling my inner Charlie Sheen before I begin this article.

A few weeks ago, columnist and friend Evan Ward criticized UA’s Premier Awards in his article “Students should be less competitive” as “contrivances” which “reveal a campus population made up of individuals consumed by a mad desire to elevate themselves over others in any way they can.” This was just a small piece in his larger argument against students striving to achieve temporary recognition without gaining the genuine knowledge an education grants us. He’s not wrong, but let me indulge you in an alternative look into this conundrum of competitiveness and success.

I grew up in Columbus, Miss., a small, rural town an hour away from Tuscaloosa. Columbus days were slow and lethargic, its citizens stuck in a never-ending bout of nostalgia. My friends lived from day to day, unable to imagine life beyond their quiet existence. I lived across the road from an abandoned barn. I hated its state of decay and how everyone forsook it as a dead relic. I didn’t want that to become me. I didn’t want to become this place, where life fades into banality. I wanted validation. I wanted to live, rather than exist.

I have been pushed to excel ever since I was old enough to warrant my grandmother breaking a branch from a tree to use as a switch. I was taught possibility, the art of ambition, the necessity of success. I grew up understanding hard work does not guarantee success, but success never comes without hard work.

I’ve learned to work twice as hard as the individual beside me. To chisel the path toward my future with more detail than those who surround me. I did this by not only gaining the genuine knowledge an education grants, but also by taking the knowledge and applying it with more vigor than my peers. I do not look for recognition; recognition enjoys my company because I strive for it in my everyday life.

If you read the bio of every individual who won a Premier Award, you’ll come to respect a student who put in the long hours necessary to excel in his or her craft. These are students whose work ethic deserve more than the label of contrivances.

This is not to say success is my only peer. The Blackburn Institute never chose me when I applied in the past. The McNair Scholarship called me to be interviewed three times in three years and denied me each time because film is not considered enough of an academic endeavor. I didn’t even receive an honorable mention for USA Today’s All-USA Academic Team. “Portrait of the Storm,” the film I made that won the first national 3D competition for students, was completely rejected by an independent film festival.  Still, I wake up the next day and push forward.

When I look back at my time here, I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if I wasn’t competitive, if I didn’t push myself harder than others. More so, college is just as much about building your resume to land that position in graduate school or get your dream job as it is gaining knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best in your craft if no one is willing to give you a chance because of your lack of credentials.

Take this from Evan’s column: College is about learning your desired field to the best of your ability. Take this from mine: While you learn your desired field to the best of your ability, there is nothing wrong with being recognized for it.


Xavier Burgin is a senior in New College studying film production.

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Students should always strive to be more competitive