Walton Teaches Resilience
by Steve Charles
October 1, 2014
A chemical engineer and retired executive who was raised in poverty and overcame adversity in his college years urged students Monday night to find their passion and learn to market their true selves beyond their diplomas, majors, or particular skills.
“Your quality of life is directly proportional to the number of choices you have,” T. Avery Walton told those packed into the Malcolm X Institute Monday night for the fourth John Evans Lecture. A retired Procter & Gamble senior executive, Walton said the path to those opportunities is learning “to market both your skillset and your mindset.”
Surveys suggest, Walton said, that employers are even more interested in the mindset.
“The thing that makes you who you are is a combination of your I.Q. and your A.Q.—your adversity quotient,” Walton said, briefly explaining PEAK Learning founder Paul Stoltz’s method for measuring and strengthening human resilience.
“Take a Navy SEAL,” Walton said. “He has a skillset, yes, but also a mindset that is off the charts: Whatever I see I will adapt to and I will overcome. That combination of skillset and mindset makes him who he is.
“At Wabash they have started to teach you certain things they want you to keep in mind: You are to be gentlemen. Now there’s a mindset that goes along with that that takes care of the unknown and unknowable when it shows up.
“It’s important that you be able articulate what makes you different,” Walton said, showing exactly how that’s done as he told his own personal stories in a narrative that clearly set him apart.
“If you saw where I grew up and the dirt road I lived on or the mobile home we used to live in, you would say this guy would never be in charge of a $5 million operation. But you’re just looking at the surface,” said Walton, who is currently managing director of the $5 million National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission (NCREPT) at the University of Arkansas.
A friend of MXI Director Willyerd Collier ’75, who introduced him as a man “committed to social justice and uplifting others,” Walton spent a portion of the day with Wabash students and came away impressed.
“It’s wonderful to be in a culture where the students can articulate the values of the school and its culture,” he said. “There are not many schools where the students can do that.”
The John Evans Lecture is named in honor of the first African American to graduate from Wabash College.
“A few years ago alumnus Bob Wedgeworth ’59 thought it would be a good idea to do something to celebrate that, and he wanted to bring someone in to encourage our students to think big like John Evans did,” Collier said.