President’s Dinner Speaker: Derick Dailey ’11

One of the most memorable moments for those in attendance at the President’s Dinner this year was the inspirational opening words on the dinner’s theme of leadership by a charismatic young alumnus, Derick Dailey, ’11, from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Derick was remarkably impressive when he was a student at Westminster.  The proposal he and his team put forward to go to Ethiopia to build a children’s library was selected by the Davis Foundation to receive a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant, and the student group traveled to Ethiopia to make the library a reality.

His work on campus with the poverty initiative led to a program where student volunteers take leftover food from the dining hall to local centers to supplement the meals of senior citizens and those in need. 

Derick’s achievements so impressed the head of the international organization Bread for the World that he helped Derick become a member of the organization’s Board of Directors while Derick was still a student. Derick, in turn, was successful in bringing that CEO to campus to speak at the 2009 Symposium.

After graduation, Derick spent a year with Teach for America before going to Yale Divinity School where he is distinguishing himself today.  This year he was named one of the 2013 Yale Presidential Public Service Fellows.  Recently, he traveled to Zambia to provide Christian education and global training there.

The eloquence of Derick’s words and the passion of his delivery sparked a spontaneous standing ovation from the entire crowd as he concluded.  Although it is not possible to replicate the electricity the crowd felt that evening from his message, his words found below still move and inspire:

The Westminster Fight Song you have just heard done so beautifully by The Churchill Singers exemplifies the Westminster spirit.  For its 162 year history, Westminster has only known one direction-onward…constantly keeping step with the times but remaining true to the principles and vision upon which it was founded.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” These words by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., capture my understanding of leadership. As America wrestled with her conscious and battled for her soul in the 1950s and 60s; men and women were lynched in the rural South and water hoses and vicious dogs were turned on men, women and children in the urban North, city streets all over the country were plagued with violence and when asked to speak to packed crowd of charismatic, angry, and disillusioned listeners in the New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, Dr. King, in a not so well known speech called the “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” uttered words about sweeping streets. I can imagine the crowd whispering to one another after King’s speech, saying, “What does sweeping streets have to do with our situation,” or perhaps saying, “King was off message today.”

The genius of the speech is in its seeming off-message-ness, its awkwardness and, and its ability to keep the crowd talking about the speech. And yet in those words about street sweeping, King articulates to the world the very essence of leadership.

Leadership requires, above anything else, that whatever your lot, you work at being the best. Wherever, whenever, however—be the very best at what you’ve been called to. That’s leadership. Wherever you find yourself, you work at perfecting your purpose, your calling.

It began nearly 6 years ago for me. Traveling in the dead of winter with my father and grandmother to this small school in Harry Truman’s home state, the Yale of the mid-west! I was captured by that statute, those columns, and the spirit that is Westminster; a pervasive and captivating spirit that compels all to think big, take action, and to transcend reality in many ways.

Mine has been a work of leadership on the margins—giving voice to the voiceless, making visible the cloudy and service to the least of these. A work impossible without the love, support, and direction provided to me by this fine school; especially people like Carolyn Perry and Barney Forsythe. They, along with all of you, embody the Triple S vision of leadership, Significance, Success and Service. This kind of leadership is forthright yet humble in all its dealings. Here at Westminster we accept that fact that leadership necessitates, most importantly, that we do not confront the world as it is, but we envision and dare to shape the world as it should be.

I have learned in my short yet full life that the world is scary with innumerable challenges and doubly problematic is the deficit of transformative leadership in the world. I have learned that transformative leadership, leadership worth following demands that leaders dare to dream. The audacity to dream is what Westminster does for young minds. Here, at Westminster we dare to believe that today can be better than yesterday and that tomorrow is full of endless possibilities to do good for all people.  Whether I am in Lusaka, Little Rock, Accra, Addis, New Haven, New York City, Seoul, Santiago, Fulton or Freetown— Westminster comes with me. My character, my vision of the world, and my purpose were cultivated and enriched here at this school.

If Westminster is to remain the best in the Midwest and indeed the best in the world, it must continue to unashamedly prioritize leadership education and development, illumine leaders, invest in them, and support them with all your might. That’s what you did for me—and I am eternally grateful!

Thank you.

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