The philanthropist and visionary who founded the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, Robert A. Jepson Jr., had a very clear message for members of its 2010 graduating class: Go forth and give to others and the world.
Jepson told assembled seniors that he had recently read "The Richest Man in Town." The author, Randall Jones, is an entrepreneur and founder of Worth magazine. The book is a compendium of 100 people who are financial successes.
Jepson said he thinks the author has it all wrong.
"I think Randall Jones has missed the point. These are the financially richest people in America. I would define the richest people in a different way. I think the richest people are the happiest, those who have risen to the top of their profession and those who are givers rather than takers. All the great people in our history and in our future will be measured by what they will give not what they will take."
These graduating students, he went on, "are seeing a world of opportunities. They're seeing a world of needs. They are excited about fulfilling those needs and making the world a better place."
"I wish for all of these graduates that they will be the richest people in their towns, wherever they go, by virtue of what they give."
Speaking to seniors, families, faculty and staff, at Finale, the senior recognition and awards event on Saturday, May 8, 2010, the day before commencement, Jepson also talked about the founding of the School.
Joanne B. Ciulla, one of the founding faculty members, introduced Jepson by noting that "the enthusiasm, encouragement and vision of this man are extraordinary and all of you students are here today because of Bob Jepson."
Jepson earned two degrees from the University of Richmond, a B.S.B.A. in 1964 and a master's degree in commerce in 1975. He founded Jepson Associates Inc., a private investment firm, in 1989. He is the former head of The Jepson Corporation, a Fortune 500 diversified manufacturing conglomerate, which he sold in 1989 for $233 million. Bob and his wife, Alice Andrews Jepson, focus much of their philanthropy on higher education and are leading benefactors at the University of Richmond. Among their most notable contributions is The Jepson School of Leadership Studies, founded in 1989, the only one of its kind in American academia. He has served the University in many ways, including nine years’ service as a trustee.
Jepson said that he was a very fortunate undergraduate who loved the business school and held many leadership positions. He thinks he got a better education than many of his peers because of what he learned from those leadership roles."I thought much about it after leaving": What if more students had the "the opportunity to learn more about themselves, more about people and how to interact with people and more about how to change the world for the better."
In 1986, when he returned to campus to deliver remarks at an honors convocation, he "thought here is my chance to challenge the University." He challenged the University to take a risks with the traditional academy, with faculty and with students and create a new discipline "that was not yet recognized but that everyone knew about, leadership."
"I told the University that if they would take the challenge and take the risk, that I would fund it." Jepson pledged $20 million to start the School.
"That was more than 20 years ago. The curriculum has been refined. Year after year, it gets better and better. ... As I look back, the gift has been cherished and cared for and built into something more than I could possibly have dreamed it would become."
In her Finale remarks, Dean Sandra J. Peart hit upon a similar theme, that of the unique place in higher education which the School holds and the diverse paths and accomplishments of its alumni.
"In the 19th century as philosophers began to think more carefully about the purpose of education, Herbert Spencer wrote that education aspires to teach "how to live ... not how to live in the mere material sense only, but in the widest sense, the right ruling of conduct in all directions under all circumstances ... how to treat the mind ... to behave as a citizen ... to the greatest advantage of ourselves and others ... how to live completely."
"At the Jepson School our goal is to teach you how to live completely," Peart said. "One of our most beloved and respected professors, Gill Hickman, puts it well when she says that at Jepson we teach our students to 'follow their passions and lead diverse organizations' and that's what our alumni do.
"Whatever you choose to do with your Jepson degree, I want to let you know that your faculty regards each of you and each of our alumni as extraordinarily talented. We respect each and every one of you," Peart said.
"As you embark on the next stage of your intellectual and professional lives, we congratulate you on what you have already accomplished; and we challenge you to accomplish more, to live completely for your own good and the good of others."