President’s Message: Shattering Barriers

  |  Cover photo by Andrew Coyle | Flickr Creative Commons
President Linnane

I am not an authority on sports. But I do know of a special moment in sports history—a moment that illuminates our challenge as a Jesuit institution.

May 6, 1954.

On that date, a medical student in England—Roger Bannister—became the first person in history to run a mile in under four minutes. In so doing, he stunned the sports world. He also challenged a stubborn orthodoxy.

The prevailing wisdom at the time held that it was a physical impossibility to run a mile in under four minutes. Medical journals proclaimed the feat beyond human capacity. Physiology rendered it impossible. Athletes concurred. Runners who got close to the mark said it was like hitting a wall. It could not be done.

Then came Roger Bannister. He shattered the barrier. In newspapers around the world, his achievement was front-page news.

In retrospect, Bannister’s achievement was less amazing than what followed. In the next two years, 16 other runners broke the four-minute mark. In just 24 months, the four-minute mile had gone from the impossible to the commonplace.

How do we explain this? A new Nike running shoe? A Darwinian leap in human capacity?

No. As Bannister explained, “The barrier was mental, not physical.” The four-minute limit was a self-imposed limit. Bannister not only broke a record, he also broke down a wall.

This anecdote points toward a question that we insist our students confront: What walls are you creating that limit your potential?

We challenge our students to reflect deeply on this issue. And we make our position firm: It is your responsibility to break down those walls.

Loyola students are special precisely because they internalize this lesson. Our faculty members are special because they refuse to permit our students to be self-limiting. They drive home the lesson that success depends decisively on breaking down walls that we ourselves create. They remind our students that success is often less a matter of aptitude than attitude.

I do not want to romanticize this issue. We all have limitations. Some are beyond our control. But the most limiting of our limitations are often of our own making.

Our graduates resist this self-limiting syndrome. They exude confidence—a direct result of the fullness, the plenitude, the educational experience we provide. Like Amanda Malik, ’12, they are both intellectually adventurous and impatient with a status quo that too often condones injustice (see page 16).

Loyola provides an experience that inspires a lifetime. It is an experience that produces students who will not be deterred by a dictum that holds this cannot be done. It is an experience that generates a restless desire to do better, to go farther, and to run faster. This is magis. This is the lesson of Roger Bannister’s achievement writ large. It is a lesson our students learn well.


The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

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