My nephew’s college graduation was yesterday (Go Terps!). Lucky me, I was one of the six chosen ones to view the commencement ceremony in person. Let’s face it, these rituals aren’t exactly on anyone’s bucket list. But I thought maybe the speaker would be really great like Steve Jobs at Stanford or Bono at University of Pennsylvania. So I went online to find that we had snagged of all people John Berry, director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Geez, we are right outside the Nation’s Capital, and Maryland Alumni include people like Connie Chung, Boomer Esiason, Carly Fiorina, and Larry David and we get John Berry??? I brought reading material and my crossword puzzle and settled in for what I assumed would be a long boring couple of hours.
By the end of Mr. Berry’s speech, I was in tears and I wasn't alone. He was impassioned, eloquent and personal. He shared his story of being a gay man in a conservative family and the challenges he faced working in public service. Through his own example, embracing diversity became more than just a catchphrase. The phrase E pluribus unum became more than mere words on a coin. When I looked around the arena at the faces of these twenty-something graduates, you could see he was reaching them. Not an easy thing to do in the world of massive ADD.
Mr. Berry ended with a simple phrase that spoke volumes about corporate ethics, fairness and respect. Something that clearly has been absent of late. He simply said, ” If you ever find yourself working for a bad person, walk away.” Bravo.
I’ve written a lot about bias and fairness in the workplace so it’s not easy for me to admit that I prejudged John Berry based on his position and title and without knowing anything about the man. How often have you done the same?