SEPTEMBER 7, 2014—First of all tonight, I want to welcome you all back to the Lodge, and congratulate you on successfully completing your trips. This is the start of your Dartmouth experience. I’ve taught at Dartmouth a long time (some people think I knew Eleazar Wheelock), and I know that you are about to begin one of the most important and enriching periods of your life.
I have only a few minutes to speak to you tonight, so I want to focus on what I think is most important for you as you begin your education here.
Just a few months ago, I published a book. (This is something Dartmouth professors do when we’re not teaching.) It was co-authored with a friend of mine, Professor Al Gini of the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University of Chicago, and it’s entitled 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders.
In that book, Prof. Gini and I identify and discuss 10 virtues that we feel are among the most important ones for today’s leaders in business, politics, education or almost any field of endeavor. For each virtue, we discuss at least one leader who epitomizes it. Here’s our list of the ten virtues and the figures we chose to illustrate each of them:
- Deep Honesty—James Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson
- Moral Courage—Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks
- Moral Vision—Winston Churchill
- Compassion—Oprah Winfrey
- Fairness—Dwight David Eisenhower
- Intellectual Excellence—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- Creative Thinking—Herb Kelleher and the People of Southwest Airlines
- Aesthetic Sensitivity—Steve Jobs
- Good Timing—Charles de Gaulle
- Deep Selflessness—Martin Luther King
My point here tonight is very simple. The purpose of a liberal arts education, is to learn about these virtues in all of your courses and to begin to put them into practice here in the classroom or laboratory, in your dorm or sorority or fraternity, on the athletic field, on the Daily D, or in your theater or singing group. You are studying liberal arts because to learn these virtues and put them in practice you have to encounter every domain of human experience.
Now, I wish I could lead you through a whole course on this theme, because I’d love to discuss each of these virtues. But I only have a few minutes, so I want to focus on one virtue and the person who epitomizes it. That virtue is aesthetic sensitivity and its embodiment is Steve Jobs, co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Apple Computer Company. We are all in debt to Jobs for the amazing creativity he brought to the world of personal computers.
Some of you may know that Jobs was adopted by working class parents. As a condition of his adoption, Jobs’ parents agreed to send him to college. So over the years, they saved up money, and when Jobs was ready, he applied to and was accepted at Reed College in Portland Oregon.
But Jobs found his first year at Reed difficult. He did poorly in his courses because he couldn’t see the point of them. Most of all, he was worried that he was wasting his parents’ hard-earned money.
So Jobs decided to drop out. Or rather, to drop out in order to drop in. He quit taking courses for credit, thanks to a friendly dean got a free room in a dorm attic, and kept himself alive by collecting and redeeming Coke bottles.
During those months, Jobs went back to take courses that interested him. One of them was a course on calligraphy, the history, art, and technology of type faces. In 2005 Jobs delivered a graduation address at Stanford University. In it he reminisced about that experience. In that course, he said,
I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.
Now I hope that none of you follow Steve Jobs in dropping out because he missed a lot, and you would, too. But I do hope that you follow him in reaching out beyond your present interests to explore all the avenues that a liberal arts education at Dartmouth opens to you. Take those courses in visual arts, in film studies, anthropology, in history, government, in physics, chemistry and biology, in religion and in philosophy. These and others are the courses that will vastly widen your horizon. They’ll introduce you to the importance of the ten virtues in human life, and they’ll help you develop your interests and your values.
I’m not asking each of you to become a Steve Jobs. But I am asking that you each become a liberally educated and ethical human being, able to make a positive contribution at some level to your communities. That’s what it means to become a leader.
I know you can do it and I wish you all the very best. Have a great year!