Not long ago, I asked a group of prospective students visiting our campus: “Who knows what the word ‘Ferrum’ means?” Many folks who studied the Periodic Table of the Elements in school may remember the answer to what is labeled Fe on the table. One of the gathered students, not too far removed from his high school chemistry class, raised his hand and said with confidence: “Iron. Ferrum means iron.”

And so it does.

Born from the atoms of exploding stars and thrown to the far reaches of the galaxy, iron ore emerges from our planet one of the strongest substances known to us. Iron, and the steel produced from it, has been used to lift cathedral ceilings to the heavens, support our symbol of liberty on Ellis Island, and span the Golden Gate. It is also as common and close at hand as a paperclip or a bicycle.

Iron is tough, strong and resilient.

In our area, the Fe--Ferrum--many of us know well, has for over a century helped build lives that are strong and resilient, tough and ready for whatever lies ahead. And this is more important than we might realize.

Eager to see their student do well, some parents ask me what signs indicate whether they will be successful in college and in life. That question is actually easy to answer. After 30 years of working in higher education, I can say that success is not determined by the school someone attended or how they score on a standardized test. It’s not guaranteed by one’s family of origin or economic privilege.

One of the most important indicators of whether someone will be successful in college and in life is resilience, fierce determination or what we might call ‘grit.’ There are no gimmicks and there are no shortcuts, just a willingness to be 110% in, no matter the cost.

I am convinced that anyone can learn, if she is determined; anyone can succeed, if he picks himself up from failure and tries again; anyone can make a difference, as long as they never give up.

Ferrum means iron, and iron is tough, strong, resilient, and what I noticed as soon as I moved here in 2018, is that this quality is in the DNA of Ferrum College and in the students who study here. This gives me hope, because as I look at the challenges we face in our communities in southwest Virginia and beyond, and as I think about the changes that are part of our future, it is clear to me that we need leaders — and a lot of them — who have this grit, this determination to work hard, to be creative and to seek out solutions to benefit us all. We need women and men who are Ferrum strong.

David L. Johns is president of Ferrum College, and can be reached at president@ferrum.edu.



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