University of Richmond

Calls for Ethical Behavior in Business and Personal Lives Dominate University of Richmond Commencement

May 5, 2003

Industrialist and philanthropist Robert S. Jepson Jr. and student speaker Jessica D. Aber called on University of Richmond graduates to exercise honor and integrity as they venture into the broader world at the university's 173rd commencement today.

Jepson told around 900 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates and a crowd estimated at more than 6,000 to remember always that "your fingerprints on time will be determined by what you give, not by what you have taken."

Aber asked fellow students to see their diplomas as "a constant reminder of your commitment to honesty and integrity" in a world where Pulitzer Prize winners plagiarize, athletic coaches lie on resumes and corporate executives mislead stockholders.

Jepson, founder of the country's first school of leadership studies at Richmond ten years ago, laid down seven concepts of personal leadership that he believes enrich his life and would do the same for others who practice them.

"Dare to dream, commit yourselves to excellence, live your lives with genuine concern for others, maintain absolute integrity and high ethics, be strong enough to take risks and learn from failure, develop a tolerance for stress, and importantly, live your lives with a sense of stewardship," he said.

"All great achievements begin with dreams," Jepson said. "Each of you will reach higher, achieve more, by being a dreamer." He advised the graduates, "never to compromise the integrity of your dreams" or "allow your visions to be relegated to mediocrity or to a status of that which might have been."

On excellence, Jepson said that leaders and winners understand "there is no substitute for striving to become, becoming and remaining the very best."

Every successful person also fosters a genuine concern for others, while maintaining absolute integrity in public and private life, he said. "Your ethics expressed through your actions are a clear window into your soul. All of us, every day, weave the ethical and moral fabric of our lives. We wear that fabric everywhere we go and it is there for all to see."

"Let us all take care," he urged, "to weave only that which we are proud to display."

Jepson reminded the audience that leaders must be willing to take risks and that risk is part of every dictionary definition of the term "entrepreneur."

Risk-taking is not "the foolhardy go-for-it-all of the gambler whose fortune is riding completely on chance," he said. The risk I speak of is a well-thought-out investment of time and resources which may pay enormous dividends, both emotionally and financially."

Jepson advised the graduates that stress is a part of business and living that "will unfortunately follow you every day and almost everywhere, and the higher you rise the more certain is its presence in your life."

Finally, Jepson asked that each person demonstrate appreciativeness and humility with "a conspicuous sense of stewardship" using the financial and human capital that accumulates over a lifetime."

The university bestowed its President's Medal on Jepson for his support over the past 20 years, which has included contributions that founded the leadership school, an alumni center and the university's main stage theatre, as well as two terms on its board of trustees.

Receiving honorary degrees were: U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow of Richmond, doctor of commercial science; Myron T. Mann, alumnus and international businessman of Balgowlah, Australia, doctor of commercial science; Jane S. Richardson, Duke University biochemist who developed kinemages, the standard of illustrating proteins in research, doctor of science; and Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt University biblical scholar, doctor of divinity.

The university also conferred honorary bachelor of letters degrees upon 63 known alumni-18 of them present--who did not finish their undergraduate studies when called to national service in World War II.

"Your accomplishments have built post-World War II America and helped provide a platform for freedom in many other parts of the world. As these heroes leave us in greater numbers every year, we are grateful for their bravery and their dedication," university President William E. Cooper said.