Professor Emeritus Tom Wren built a career on mining the pages of history for insights about leadership. So it’s no surprise that when students asked him to deliver the keynote speech for this year’s Finale ceremony, the senior recognition ceremony for leadership studies majors and minors, he turned yet again to the historical record to prepare for what he says “almost certainly is my last time behind a lectern.”

“I do not have ego enough to think that I have nuggets of wisdom worth sharing, but there is a message I am comfortable being my last communication to you as you head out to begin your adult lives,” Wren said at the ceremony, held May 9. “It has to do with the education that you have just completed, and it is something I think of as ‘The Jepson Way.’”

Wren, ever the advocate of a liberal arts education and a founding faculty member of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, illustrated the power of a transformative educational experience by sharing the stories of two local mid-20th century leaders. One worked to end racial segregation. The other worked to resist integration in schools.

“Since both came essentially from the same time and place, it is worth our while to investigate why these two men turned out so differently,” he said. “Thinking about these two in leadership terms, both were leaders of a sort. But I would argue that a key difference between them is that [one] became a moral leader, while [the other] did not.

The education the two men received made the difference, Wren said. The one who worked to end segregation was privy to an education where he was exposed to multiple viewpoints and that required critical thinking and logical analysis.

“Such can be the power of an education… if that education is geared to awaken critical sensibilities and expose one to new ideas and arguments,” Wren said. “Such an education can lay the groundwork for moral leadership.”

Jepson students receive that type of education, he said. “It’s what I like to think of as ‘The Jepson Way.’

He ended with a challenge to seniors, many of whom were recognized for leadership, service, and academic achievements.    

“The real ‘Jepson Way’ only exists if you make it your way – and take from this education that you have received and apply it to better the condition of those around you,” he said. “Take this 'Jepson Way' with you as you move into the rest of your lives, and make the world, or your little corner of it, a better place.”