The former dean of students relfects on his career and gives some advice
by Lewis Harrison Drew ’60
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you will wind up somewhere else,” according to Yogi Bera. Hampden-Sydney does not have to worry, for it has a mission which has guided the College since its founding: “… to form good men and good citizens.”
This was our benchmark in student affairs during my years as dean of students, and everything we did as a staff we tried to relate to that institutional mission. Thus, it is very natural for me to offer to alumni in this article some observations, based on my own experience, concerning what qualities help make someone a better person, a good man and good citizen, in our terminology, and, also, an effective leader throughout life.
As dean of students, I saw many young men struggle with a multitude of decisions they had to make. Helping them grow into mature men was my job and my life. For many students, I was a bit like a father, a teacher, and a counselor—perhaps at times like Darth Vader—all rolled into one. While I was challenged as dean with determining the correct course of action for individual students experiencing difficulty, I also celebrated the successes of many more young men.
Now these former students are grown men. Some even have seen their own sons graduate from Hampden-Sydney. Because these men may now themselves be faced with moments when they must help a son or another young person recover from a bad decision, weigh multiple choice options, foster positive habits, or celebrate the simple victories of life—these are all things I experienced as dean—I have collected some thoughts and opinions on life and leadership that may be of help.
Much of what I relate here was the basis of remarks made to the student leadership group The Society of ’91 at their graduation ceremony in the spring of 2010; hence the occasional reference to books or articles read by the group and the emphasis on leadership. The principles espoused represent to this day some of my core beliefs and philosophically formed the basis of my work with students.
I urge you to keep in your library John W. Gardner’s book, On Leadership; The Power of Character by Michael S. Josephson and Wes Hanson; Steven L. Carter’s book Integrity; and Letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leaf through them from time to time, as continuing tools of inspiration and renewal as you go through the various phases of your adult life. Doing so will help you stay focused on, and be committed to, these ideals, which, in turn, will help you live a life worth living.
My mind goes back to a hot August day about thirty years ago, at the beginning of pre-season football camp—two-a-days. Coach Stokeley Fulton ’54, a legendary coach after whom our football field is named, was talking to the one hundred or so players gathered in the stadium. I was finishing up my three-mile walk and thought I would just stop and listen.
Those of us who knew Coach Fulton—he was my pitching coach in baseball and later became a dear friend and colleague—knew how competitive he was. He wanted to win—no doubt about it—and especially to beat Macon. In a word, he was intense. But, he also was a coach who believed he was a teacher, who saw himself as someone who wanted to use football and baseball to teach his players how to live.
As I stood on the road listening, Coach Fulton was talking about his expectations for their behavior on and off the football field. He was explaining how one could spend years building up a reputation for good character and how fast—in an instant almost—one could lose it by a foolish act or egregious behavior. He urged them to think, to anticipate outcomes before acting, and to remember they were representing not only themselves but also their families and the College.
That moment has stuck with me, for it reinforced my already strong belief that coaches (and others) can have an enormous influence on their players and that the best coaches teach both X’s and O’s and about character, sportsmanship, and how to live life.
Coach Fulton was a wonderful example for his players. We need to remember, though, that we are all examples to those around us, for better or worse.
Think about it. When people reflect on their lives and describe who influenced them the most for the better, it is almost always someone who was genuine and trustworthy; someone who was consistent, “walked the talk,” as we say; and someone who had high standards and held us to them. In other words, these people had integrity. They were who they seemed to us to be. What a joy it is for any of us to have people in our lives who don’t disappoint, who don’t let us down. And, what a challenge it is to us to strive to be among those people who influence others for the better.
Most often we look to the famous or well positioned for our examples, for our inspiration. But, they are obviously not the only ones. I have been reminded time and time again—and moved, I might add—by how many ordinary people provide us with solid examples of leadership, good citizenship, and service to others. This lesson was driven home to me often when, as dean of students, I attended funerals of students’ family members and was struck by the wonderful examples of the deceased, who had given of themselves in service to others and had lived lives which were inspirations to those whom they had influenced, without themselves necessarily having been “big wheels.”
So, what makes some, whether famous or not, worthy of being emulated as models for the rest of us? Well, in no particular order, let’s try these characteristics, among others:
Coach John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, with ten NCAA titles, the most ever, is reported to have said that the four things mankind craves the most are freedom, happiness, peace, and love, none of which can be obtained without first giving it to someone else.
So, how do you get to be one of those people worthy of emulation? Well, as I observed students and others at Hampden-Sydney and elsewhere over the years, those who were most worthy of setting the example knew who they were, “at bottom.”
Many issues and problems in life come at us without warning, giving us little or no time to prepare a response or to consult with someone else. At such times, it is especially important for us to know who we are “at bottom.”
Yes, in school we may have spent time on case studies and on ethics problems posed to generate discussion and presumed solutions. But in the type of situation to which I am referring, we are just “out there,” alone on a figurative island. What to do? Indeed, what to do if you are in your early years in business, for instance, and your boss suggests strongly that you take a shortcut, an unethical one, to make a business action work out, at least in the short run?
Well, it is in your most private, reflective moments, when you do have time to consider who you are, what you really believe, and the principles and values that mean most to you and on which you will base your life—it is then that you have the chance to internalize these values so that when faced with an ethical or moral dilemma, unanticipated or otherwise, you react instinctively, your feeling of unease immediately letting you know that something is wrong here, and act accordingly.
You might well now be thinking, “This is all well and good, but very idealistic. How in the world can anyone measure up? After all, we are human!” But it is also human to strive, to reach for the best, for excellence.
Walter Lippman, a columnist for Newsweek magazine, years ago commented on this by writing (and I am paraphrasing) that striving always to do the right thing does not require that you be a “goody-goody.” Rather, it requires that you be strong, have moral courage, and act on principle. I like that because it is all too easy for us to fall back on the old line of excusing ourselves because we are “only human.” Remember, the key here is not being perfect; rather, it is striving for the best.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius spoke to this human dilemma: “Do not be distressed; do not despond or give up in despair if now and again practice falls short of perfect. Return to the attack after each failure, and be thankful if on the whole you can acquit yourself in the majority of cases as a man should.”
Stephen Carter, in his book Integrity, similarly refers to a sermon preached about two hundred years ago: “…not that one never fails to live a life governed by a duty to the good and the right, but rather that one always tries to.”
In other words, the overall tone of one’s life should be that when one falls short, that failure is recognized as atypical. This idea of persistence, of striving, is captured well by Sir Winston Churchill’s famous statement in 1941, before Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II, at a time when England was being devastated by German bombings. With great emotion, he rose and said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Clearly, then, leadership is not only about being, but also about acting. It’s all about having convictions, acting on them, and being in the arena. Outside Graham Hall is a plaque on which is printed that wonderful, inspirational statement by Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again…who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”
Since its first classes, Hampden-Sydney College has been committed to developing the best possible men by stressing the importance of integrity and character. Some in our society today might question the relevance of an institution of higher education placing so much emphasis on these personal values. In response to an alumnus who had expressed some doubt about the relevance of the College’s mission in these modern times, then-President Samuel V. Wilson said, “Sound leadership has an essential requirement. It is called character. But the very first and most important ingredient of character is honor. Since 10 November 1775, Hampden-Sydney has been steadfastly producing men of character, men with honor. Disproportionately, our men have become leaders in far fields and numerous disciplines throughout the world. I submit that no college or university in this nation of ours does this better then we do.”
Hampden-Sydney definitely makes a difference in the lives of its alumni. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, I urge all of us alumni never to forget the best of what we learned on this Hill and to act on that knowledge and those values throughout our lives.
I want to end with these high thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians to guide you as you think about the obligations and consequences of being a Hampden-Sydney Man: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”