The August sun beams warmly in Greeley this Saturday morning in 1998, on these outdoor graduation ceremonies of the University of Northern Colorado. Kristy, our new daughter-in-law as of the night before, is graduating from college 14 hours later. It has been a busy, happy weekend for us all. I look at my watch as the commencement speaker walk to the microphone on the field before us. He is, says the master of ceremonies, Daniel L. Ritchie, Chancellor of the University of Denver.
“When I graduated from college, I thought about my classmates,” Ritchie begins, “and I put them in two categories. Those for whom and with whom I would like to work, and those for whom and with whom I would not. I called the second category the ‘snakes.’ And I determined not to be one of them.” Over the next few years, he observed the respective progress of the two groups, Ritchie says. In the immediate short term, the “snakes” seemed to move ahead. But then an interesting thing happened. Gradually the “snakes” fell behind and the people with character and principles passed them. “The problem with being a snake is that people eventually discover that,” he adds. “And once they learn it, they never forget it.”
Ritchie is no ivory-tower intellectual, separated from real life on the ground. The son of a North Carolina farm equipment dealer, he earned two degrees from Harvard University, and eventually became CEO of Westinghouse Broadcasting. In 1987 he moved to Colorado, where he became a trustee of the University of Denver, then a board member and finally the chancellor. Not only does he serve without pay, in 1994 he gave the university a personal donation of $15 million. “You have two things that money cannot buy,” he exhorts the graduates, “your character and your reputation. Don’t ever sacrifice either of them.”
His remarks remind me of Psalm 37. I am impressed. And encouraged. And pleased. I hope the graduates are listening.