Find your passion

Troy Prinkey ethics speech

The following blog post is taken from the ethics speech that Spanish teacher Dr. Troy Prinkey delivered to Middle School students and faculty. He shares why finding and nurturing a passion — such as his love of cooking and books — can make the world a happier place.

I love to cook — and eat. I love to read — and collect books. I've spent a lot of time in kitchens — my mother's, my grandmother's and my own. And I've spent a lot of time in libraries — at [University of Pittsburgh] Greensburg's campus while keeping my dad company while he went to night school for his accounting degree, and when I was doing my degrees at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia. Heck, I've even blended my kitchen and a special collections library in my own house — my very own cooking library! Until I sat down to think about what I'd say in my ethics speech, I hadn't stopped to think about how a couple of those passions of mine — both food and books — had combined. Today I'm going to talk to you about the concept of passion.

Who likes cashews? Did you know that a cashew isn't a nut? And that there is a cashew fruit, known as a "cashew apple," around the cashew that people can eat? And that if not properly harvested, cashew nuts can be toxic because there is a layer of urushiol around it? Urushiol is the same stuff that gives you a rash when you touch poison ivy. Imagine poison ivy inside your belly! Learning about cashews and all kinds of different foods from books and online is fascinating to me. I do the research and then I make things in my kitchen from them.

Part of why I'm so "into" cuisine is the mad scientist that secretly hides inside of me. I conjure regional pastes and fret over sauces made from authentic ingredients that I scour from all reaches of the DMV. I'm fussy enough to even preserve lemons in sea salt over the course of many months to have the best Moroccan dish I can muster. The other reasons I'm so into cuisine? A passion to know my world and a passion to better know the people from [the world's] so very many different regions. Perhaps what most drives my passion in a real-world, everyday context is that I need to show appreciation by way of the time and energy I spend while making the dishes that I then serve to the people I love. I love seeing people beam, brows furrowed in gustatory pleasure when they take their first bite of lasagna or chicken tikka masala. It makes their world just a little better, and it makes my heart just a little bit fuller.

Passions give us the stretchy sinew and taut tendon that bind to the hard bones of everyday experience. Ask the physiologists we have on staff — they'll tell you that without sinew and tendon, we wouldn't move, glide or hop through our day, making fun, interesting moments that get added to our memory. Oprah Winfrey — every 11- to 14-year-old boy's hero — said, "Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you." To return to my culinary metaphor, I think of passion as the spicy Madras curry in an otherwise boring chickpea stew. It's the basil chiffonade atop an otherwise predictable gazpacho. In other words, passions make the moments between and among people — or even alone with our thoughts — that make our day count.

Guess what isn't a passion? Striving for the highest score on Destiny 2 or The Legend of Zelda, sending a record-setting number of text or Snapchat messages, or collecting as many followers as you can on the... "pick your social media platform." Maybe a deeper passion for technology starts there, but... NOW, learning as much as you can about the computer languages and dialects that allow you to be a part of the fascinating e-world around us? Maybe. Taking classes in those languages, creating new platforms that would springboard our society into an even more exciting era? Definitely. And passing along your passion — with intensity, meaning and care — to someone else? Well, guess what each of these amazing Middle School teachers — your teachers! (you kids are so lucky to have them) — try to do each and every time you walk into their classroom? Teach with intensity, meaning, and care their passion for a subject that they love.

Returning to books and literature, one of my passions... Remember the cookbooks I [mentioned]? Well, I'm a little embarrassed to say that I have even more novels, short stories and poetry collections in Spanish. Have you ever heard of Don Quixote? He's a hapless character from a novel written in the 1600s by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote read a lot of fantasy books with dragons and knights and damsels in distress. And you know what he decided to do? He decided to dress up like a knight, ride around on his super skinny horse, and try to perform good acts throughout his world.

He really did love the world and what he was doing. And even though he was pretty crazy and fought giants that turned out to actually be windmills, people admired his passion for doing good things. Everyone around him told him he was insane. [His sidekick] Sancho would say, "Sire, those aren't giants..." or "Those are sheep, silly, not armies you should battle." Has anyone ever said, "You can't do that! That's crazy!" Well, sometimes those people are right, and you should listen. Don Quixote's obsessions and passion to do good in the world got him into trouble and, eventually, even caused his death. (Just one adventure too far.) But sometimes the negative Nellies telling you you're crazy? They're wrong. Your intensity, your energy is what will drive you to do great things. Find one! Find a passion. Dedicate yourself to it, and watch the happiness that will spring up in those around you and that will spill out of yourself.