Jun 13, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
On May 31 I was honored to receive an honorary doctorate in education from Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico, where I was born and grew up. Founded in 1935, Sagrado Corazón is a small, religious institution with only 5,200 students, but a lot of history. While I knew of Sagrado, I knew nothing about it. That changed five years ago when I met Gilberto Marxuach, then the university’s newly appointed, energetic, and dedicated president. I visited its campus several times over the years, speaking about innovation in education and the need for small institutions to define a niche, reinvent themselves, and modernize their offerings. I have been enormously pleased how my messages have been received and ideas adopted. There is a revolution going on in sleepy Sagrado, and I am proud to have played a small role.
I must admit that I was very surprised by the honor. First, from Luke 4:24, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Second, Sagrado is not a research institution. And third, the honorary degree is in education. I never would have predicted this outcome at this point in my career. My commencement address (in Spanish, but available here) was in fact about life as a series of accidents and opportunities — some taken and some declined — that at times lead to unexpected outcomes.
Life is indeed a series of accidents, but this does not imply that it is a game of chance. I believe the opportunities we face are very much influenced by what we do or don’t do in those moments. I have had plenty of opportunities in life, but the great majority cannot be attributed to mere luck. The opportunities, the openings, came about because of the wisdom of people who believed in me. They believed in me because I gained their respect and confidence through hard work and dedication. I would be disingenuous if I were to state that I had only desirable opportunities. Like most, I had my share of disappointments. Some were deserved and others not, but were the result of external forces. I accepted many of the opportunities presented to me but also declined some because of the circumstances of the moment. My decisions, positive or negative, were always guided by a self-assessment of readiness, by family, by values, and the search for happiness. Those decisions, over my 68 years, took me to Sagrado on May 31.
I have always believed that there are good leaders and there are great leaders. Good leaders have vision, are innovative, and are fully committed to their personal mission and the mission of their institution. But great leaders have something more. Great leaders see themselves as public servants. They are generous with ideas, with time and resources, and go out of their way to help others. That is where they derive true fulfillment. I would like to think that in bestowing this honor, Sagrado is reaffirming my leadership values, to the extent that I have lived up to them, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Rafael L. Bras