Paper Airplanes and Secret Wishes—Gustavson Shows Students How To Improvise

By Purnell T. Cropper | September 2, 2011

Keynote speaker Dr. Leif Gustavson got right to the point. “I want to do something…. I think when we do this activity, I am going to get in trouble with housekeeping,” he said with a laugh as he asked the audience to get the sheets of paper that were handed out as they entered Stiteler Auditorium for New Student Convocation on Aug. 30.

He asked students to consider, “What is one thing that you would really like to accomplish within the next four years…a degree…a goal…a desire?” Students (and faculty and staff) wrote on their 8 1/2 by 11 sheets of paper—then had the option of creating a paper airplane or a wadded-up ball. “When I say ‘go,’ throw your paper airplane or ball in a different direction to someone else in this room. Pick up one other than your own.” Paper flew onto the stage and around the room. College of Arts and Sciences Dean Barbara Nodine and others helped launch paper airplanes back into the audience.

“Take a look at this gift that was just given to you,” added Gustavson, Associate Professor and Chair of Education, explaining “why this game is a lot like college. College is a large group of people who don’t know each other but need to come together to accomplish some incredible and important things. How do we work together to ensure that those things have a chance of happening?

“We need to be improvisers,” he said. “Improvisers say yes, trust their impulses, make other people look good, and work at the top of their intelligences.

“Jump in and do things. Find as many ways as possible to collaborate with others. Say yes as often as you can. Trust your impulses. Make others look good. Work at the top of your intelligence. Work hard at everything that you don’t know. Practice something you want to get better at. If you do this, we have a chance of making these dreams and these wishes come true.

“In four years, find me and tell me what happened to the things you wrote down on this piece of paper.”