Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor, bestselling author, and expert in motivational psychology, will address Harvey Mudd College’s graduating class at the 2016 commencement ceremony.
Dweck is the author of Mindset, in which she argues that an individual’s perception of failure and success determines their personal growth.
Lin Yang HM ’16, HMC’s senior class co-president, acknowledged that many students initially assumed the speaker would be a scientist or engineer, but said she was encouraged by the excitement others had expressed about the choice.
Nathan Geldner HM ’16, who nominated Dweck for commencement speaker, said that Dweck’s work was especially important for HMC students to understand.
“Her work essentially identifies how to fix the biggest salient issues with Harvey Mudd College,” he said. “Here, the education works very well, but there are very serious negative impacts. We have abysmally bad mental health.”
According to Dweck, those with a “fixed” mindset believe that aptitude is innate, and their fear of failure will cause them to avoid risks and limit their own growth. Those who believe in the importance of developing talent have a “growth” mindset and are more likely to make the most of their experiences and achieve their full potential.
“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes,” Dweck told The New York Times in 2008. “But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”
Geldner also said that failure took a particularly heavy psychological toll on those with a fixed mindset.
Yang expressed enthusiasm about the selection of Dweck, and agreed that her work was relevant to HMC's environment.
“I was really excited to see Carol Dweck nominated, because one of the most common Mudd experiences is that this school is hard,” Yang said. “One of the big takeaways that my friends and I have all have had in our four years is, how do I cope with challenges? How can I turn my weaknesses into strengths?”
Morgan Mastrovich HM ’16 worked with Yang to organize a group to read Mindset over winter break. The Dean of Students office agreed to fund the books, and about 100 students participated.
Mastrovich credited Dweck with helping to reframe her academic experience.
“It was really easy for me to sink into this mindset of approaching everything as stuff to do, rather than an opportunity to learn and grow,” she said. “When there’s so much to do, it’s hard to not let that consume you and to forget why we’re here.”
While Dweck’s work has often been considered in academic and professional contexts, it is also relevant to all kinds of personal growth, and, as Yang put it: “Scientists are people too.”
Harvey Mudd’s 58th Commencement will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, in the Harvey Mudd Quadrangle.