Remember the Most Important Thing

In the midst of the busy, those of use who are task-oriented can get tunnel-vision: “Must get the next thing done!” With September and the start-up of another academic year upon us, the tyranny of the urgent can sometimes overwhelm the important (thank you Stephen Covey).

This summer I was reminded about what’s really important. Here’s the story.

For the past few years, I’ve known a woman who was simultaneously working towards completing her masters degree and struggling with cancer. As it came closer to graduation, it became clear that she was also getting close to the end of her life. I learned that she had gone into the hospital a few days before the graduation ceremony, but there was a chance she could cross the stage in a wheelchair. We were hoping and praying for her but sadly she was unable to make to the ceremony, and she passed away shortly afterwards.

I relayed the story to the Provost and President, and mentioned that this woman’s daughter was also a current student at our university. They decided that we would hold a special ceremony for the family to present the mother’s degree to the daughter. A few weeks later, we held a small event – just a few key people and the family – and just a half-hour in length, but I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have.

The President and Provost each spoke about why we were doing this. The Provost shared about the value of her work as a student and member of the University, and the President said he hoped the family would treasure the moment and the degree as a testament to their mother’s important life and work. Then a faculty member shared a few stories of her experience with the woman through her program. There was hardly a dry eye in the room. After a prayer of blessing by another faculty member, followed by a heartfelt response by the family, I looked around the room and thought these are really important, really busy people but clearly they have kept perspective of what’s most important in life. A few weeks later, I received a very nice note from the daughter, thanking us and explaining just how meaningful it was to her and her family. Once again, I was touched.

In the midst of pressing deadlines, prepping for the next meeting, responding to the latest emergency or concern, it would have been pretty easy to say, “Oh, it’s too bad – let’s send the degree to family in the mail.” Instead, the President and the Provost demonstrated leadership by seeing what was more important than all the busy-ness, and took the time to reach out to the family to express love and care.  I am thankful I work at a university that values these opportunities. I am thankful for the students we have and, most importantly, I appreciate the opportunity to be part of something so meaningful.

Once again I have learned what good leadership looks like. I hope that through this story you are reminded of what’s most important about your work. I hope you take the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life and can demonstrate your own leadership towards the truly important things in life.



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