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Dr. John Downey, '06 Presents Inspiring Remarks at the 2014 Opening Session in Williamsburg

Dr. John Downey

It is such a pleasure to be here at the opening luncheon for the LEAD VIRGINIA Class of 2014! I congratulate each of you… as you are embarking today on an incredible journey of professional and personal development. It is on the subject of that journey, and about the process of engaging in the LEAD VIRGINIA experience, that I would like to speak with you today.

Singer/songwriter Harry Chapin once wrote, “It has to be the going….not the getting there…that’s good.” It strikes me that, as we think about our own leadership development, many of us spend way too much time in our lives worrying more about the final destination than about the process it takes to get there. If we are truthful with ourselves about our own development, I think we can often focus too hard on the fact that we want so desperately to reach some pinnacle, to accomplish some achievement, to gain some promotion, or to secure that one career defining moment.

Leadership, of course, does require of us…. that we strive tirelessly to accomplish important and meaningful goals. Leadership is all about accomplishment, but not JUST about personal accomplishment. Rather, true leadership is about accomplishment for the sake of some greater purpose, for creating some grander environment, for establishing a better Commonwealth, and for forming a broader vision…. for what we can all become… together.

The curriculum of LEAD VIRGINIA…under the leadership of the Director of the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Dr. John Thomas, employs the concept of Social Capital to engage participants in the leadership development process. That curriculum is very intentionally designed to help you acquire the social network necessary…so that you can achieve important accomplishments… as leaders in service to the public. The premise of social capital is that social networking has value…. in helping leaders accomplish societal benefits. The relationships you will forge through your active participation in LEAD VIRGINIA will not only benefit you personally, but will build a sense of trust, reciprocity, and cooperation that will benefit the work you do to build a better community around you. This opening luncheon is the beginning of that journey of building more social capital…. for every member of the LEAD VIRGINIA Class of 2014.

As I reflect upon my own leadership journey, I can’t help but think of how many beautiful people came into my life at just the right moment, to provide me with just the right guidance, which helped to enrich my experience….. and prompted me to grow. My participation in the LEAD VIRGINIA Class of 2006 was an integral part of that experience, providing me with exposure to people I have subsequently come to depend upon…. as I try to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth… through the leadership roles I assume. The truth is that none of us accomplish much at all…. without the selfless generosity of incredible mentors, trusted friends and loving families that we are so fortunate to know. And today, we dare not waste this opportunity, as you begin your LEAD VA experiences, to pause and reflect upon the fact …..that our own achievements are linked inexorably, with the generosity of people we are privileged to meet along the way.

I read a story recently, written by Leadership Coach Tanveer Naseer, about a Canadian Olympic speed skater named Danny Morrison. Danny finished with a Silver medal in the Sochi Games in February, and subsequently enjoyed the admiration of his country and of the world. But Danny never should have won a silver medal. In fact, Danny never should have been on the Canadian Olympic Team at all. You see, during the Olympic qualifying trials, Mr. Morrison lost his footing on the ice, and never finished his race, and therefore did not qualify as a Canadian Olympic finalist. However, Danny Morrison’s team mate -- Gilmore Junio --- did run a clean qualifying race that day and should have represented Canada on the Olympic team. Instead, he selflessly relinquished his spot on the team and gave it to Danny Morrison, because he believed Danny was a better skater and provided a better chance for the Canadians to win a medal. Gilmore Junio said that having Danny Morrison skate instead was, “ in the best interest of the team.” After Gilmore Junio relinquished his spot on the team for Danny Morrison, they trained side by side with each other….pushing the limits of human endurance and speed…trying to improve the Canadian team.

Danny Morrison is an amazingly accomplished speed skater and is now… an Olympic Silver Medalist. But Danny Morrison would never have been on that podium at all…. if it wasn’t for Gilmore Junio.

The concept of Social Capital is such a vital part of the LEAD VIRGINIA curriculum….. so that each of you are able to find your Gilmore Junio. But perhaps more important than that….for the future of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the concept of Social Capitol also helps remind us…. that LEAD VIRGINIA exists so that we learn how to become Gilmore Junio for others.

I grew up as the sixth child in a family of ten children…. In the neglected middle, I like to tell my siblings. What was most rewarding to me about that experience was that I learned at a very early age what Social Capital is all about. As I look back with fondness on the memories of my childhood, it is the social interactions with the members of my family that created in me a very distinctive call to service…. that also beckons you today… as you prepare to enter the experience of becoming a member of the Class of 2014. Ultimately, LEAD VIRGINIA is all about public service…and about providing each of you with the opportunity to develop relationships that will help you work past the political, cultural and ideological differences that divide so many of us today.

Today, you have a choice to make. All of us are constantly torn in so many directions…. with our busy lifestyles and our demanding jobs,….that fully engaging in the time commitment that LEAD VIRGINIA demands, is quite a challenge. I urge you to choose today… to commit yourselves to taking the time… to fully engage in the complete experience of LEAD VIRGINIA.

Woodrow Wilson fully understood the advantages of taking the time to build Social Capital when he spoke to a group of young college students and said, “Do not forget then, as you walk these classic places, why you are here! You are here not merely to prepare to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourselves if you forget the errand.”

As you visit all of the classic places in Virginia during the next several months, do not forget why you are engaged in this experience. The future of this Commonwealth is dependent upon leaders like yourselves who can employ Social Capital to work past differences to create solutions to vexing public problems… and to thereby create a better Virginia for us all!