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  • Joshua Kim, Colby College

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I’ve never been a big “quotes” guy. I always thought they were a little too cheesy, too cliche, or sometimes just unrealistic. The more I hear them, the more they seem to lose meaning. However, there is one quote in my life that has done the opposite for me. One that has a new aura of meaning every time I come back to it. It has been a mantra that sums up my short 19-year-old life thus far and has made me who I am today.

It was the last day of classes for my senior year of high school and our entire class of 120 students had been asked to come into the gymnasium for one final assembly. We all piled up into the gym and sat down in the student section. Our headmaster came out onto the stage, tapped on the microphone twice, and then began speaking.

“Good morning everyone, and welcome to the final assembly of the year.”

And then it went on, like every other assembly we had all year—long and dry, everyone squirming to get out of their seats. But before our headmaster dismissed everyone, he took a long pause. He looked at us, he looked at the teachers standing in the back, and came back to the microphone.

“Students, once you guys are out these doors, you will have finally finished all of your classes in high school. However before you go, I want you to remember one thing. Look back at all the teachers who are behind you. Find the teachers that mean so much to you. As you do, I want to share a quote by the famous Isaac Newton that captures this.

And that’s when I heard something that has stuck with me since.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

He looks up at us and indicates at the teachers in the building.

“This is what your teachers are for. I know you guys are all leaving this place now, but I want you guys to remember how you got here, how much you’ve learned, and who to thank for how far you’ve come today.”

All the students stood up and applauded the teachers. Our headmaster was right.

I realized one thing about myself that day. I was a product of the people I was surrounded by. I challenged myself through difficult conversations with people, I learned from meeting diverse arrays of people, and I grew from understanding different perspectives from foreign people. It all came down to people. I had always subconsciously known it, but the quote had put those feelings into words.

You see, my headmaster had missed one thing. While he had mentioned this quote in the context of teachers to students, this quote applies to so much more. The giants that we are standing on don’t just apply to teachers. It applies to friends, to teammates, to foreigners, to mentors. It applies to everyone I met growing up: my teammates from competitive club soccer, my piano teacher of 14 years, my best friend Trevor who lives in Canada, the Spanish-speaking locals in Chile—even everyone I met in the National Millennial and Gen Z Community in Atlanta. It applies to everyone who gave me insight on their life perspectives and shared pieces of themselves with me. All those pieces have made me who I am today.

There’s one last piece that I want to leave for whoever is reading this. There is one important factor that allows few people to climb higher and see farther than the others. It’s the factor of wanting to grow. Wanting to learn. Wanting to be better. Some people call it a growth mindset, I just call it being hungry: being hungry to constantly learn from others, to challenge your thoughts, to meet different people. And if you have that in mind, you will be able to climb onto the tallest shoulders of giants, and see as far as you want.

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