Be the responsible leaders society needs.

That was the charge that Dr. Kenneth P. Ruscio, president of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, gave to the Jepson School Class of 2017 during the School’s Finale ceremony on Saturday, May 6.

Ruscio, who served as the third dean of the Jepson School before becoming president of his alma mater, Washington & Lee University, returned to the Jepson School this year as the 2016–17 Jepson School leader-in-residence. As leader-in-residence, he hosted public lectures, visited classes, and met with faculty, staff, and students.

“Jepson is not just about leadership but a particular kind of leadership,” Ruscio told the Jepson School graduates.

Ruscio would not offer an exact definition of that leadership but identified its qualities. The Jepson brand of leadership embraces skepticism that asks questions but does not fall into cynicism. It looks to reason to form and express opinions and does not measure the quality of an argument by its volume or emotion. It appeals to what unites rather than what divides. And it balances “the courage of your convictions with the humility that comes from knowing that you still have much to learn and you may be wrong.”

“I worry that without a place like Jepson, and without its graduates, the cynical, impulsive, divisive exercise of power so in vogue right now will prevail at great cost to our democracy,” said Ruscio.

Ruscio noted that a Jepson School degree imbues students with not only an understanding of how to lead ethically and responsibly but also an obligation to do so.  

“If ever a place like Jepson was needed, it is now more than ever. If ever we needed future leaders like you, it is now more than ever,” said Ruscio. “We are depending on you.”

Ruscio spoke to a crowd of more than 400 graduates, families, faculty, staff, and friends. The Jepson School Class of 2017 comprised of 79 leadership studies majors and 10 minors, the largest Jepson School graduating class ever.

In her opening remarks, Jepson School Dean Sandra J. Peart observed that the graduates had served as leaders both on and off campus, including on honor council, as resident advisors, on student government associations, and as founding members of the University of Richmond’s Roosevelt Institute. The 2017 Jepson School graduates also included this year's student speakers for the University’s Candlelight and Commencement Ceremonies.

“You will join over one thousand extraordinary Jepson alumni, who live in many states and counties,” said Peart. “Whatever you do in the future, we know that you will be ethical leaders who have the energy, the desire, and the education to make the world a better place.”

2017 Jepson School Finale Ceremony