At the end of October, I had the privilege of being inaugurated as the twelfth president of Eastern Kentucky University. It was a memorable day for my family and me, and we were very appreciative for all who helped plan the ceremony and grateful to all who attended.
As a basis for my presentation, I borrowed the immortal words of one of America's truly great figures of the 19th and 20th centuries: Daniel H. Burnham. Renowned architect, shaper of public policy, crafter of city planning, dreamer of big dreams -- Burnham was all this and much, much more. It has been said of Burnham that his greatest influence may not have been what he built, but what he imagined. His ability to fire the souls and curiosity of others was unmatched, as was his ability to ask "why not?"
As the New Year approaches with the perennial practice of making resolutions, I have pledged to let Burnham's words provide inspiration as I prepare my own personal and professional goals for 2015:
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big."
The one great equalizer in this world is time - regardless of resources, no one can make more of it nor can we buy more time on this planet. How we chose to use our time is completely up to us. As has been said by many, life is 10% what happens and 90% how we choose to react to it.
The chance to reflect on a new year and the opportunities ahead also allows us to recommit to be bold in our thinking and audacious in our actions. Undergirding this boldness is a characteristic common to the great leaders I admire: optimism.
Regardless of the challenges these great leaders confronted or the apparently insurmountable odds they faced, these men and women refused to be anything but unrelentingly optimistic. Nicholas Murray Butler, former president of Columbia University and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, once stated, "Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress."
We live in a world loaded with cynicism and attuned to the shrillness of the public discourse all around us. William Butler Yeats wrote about this in the "Second Coming" when he bemoaned the condition of the world after the War to End All Wars in 1919: "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I refuse to allow the worst to drown out all the positive around us as there is so much to celebrate in our world which uplifts, builds, and motivates.
I pledge to let 2015 be a year in which I focus on a persistently optimistic attitude, think big, and refuse to let those naysayers who dream too small deter me from my own goals.