Brian Ray's speech for the Fall 2022 doctoral commencement

Speech by Dr. Brian Ray to graduating doctoral students at the UF Doctoral Commencement Ceremony in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Friday, Dec. 16.

Dr. Ray is a professor and director of the Poe Business Ethics Center in the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida. He is also a Chaplain and Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Gator doctoral graduates, there’s no place I’d rather be today than with you and your family and friends. Why? ... Because graduation is the ultimate celebration of hard work, and as graduates earning your prestigious UF doctoral degrees, you have devoted many years of hard work to reaching this day!

My guess is few of you remember anything that a graduation speaker has ever said. Well, I hope to change that. How? I’d like you to see me not as your graduation speaker, but as your graduation storyteller.

I’m going to tell three stories that I hope you’ll share with your children and grandchildren. I hope that you find these stories so valuable that one day you share them with those you love the most. With so much resting on your shoulders as the world’s most educated and knowledgeable individuals, each story focuses on a theme that I see as critical for your success in a time full of division and strife. Those three themes are resolve, temperance, and integrity … RTI!

Let’s say them together so those folks in Athens and Tallahassee can hear us. Here we go! Theme #1 is “Resolve!” Theme #2 is “Temperance!” And Theme #3 is “Integrity!” Outstanding … RTI.

Having deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, I know what it’s like to face adversity. Throughout history, we have courageous examples of Soldiers overcoming adversity. Consider the bravery of the Soldiers who stormed the beaches at Normandy … some of whom were Gators younger than you, many seeing combat for the first time.

The determination to show resolve by turning adversity into victory, brings me to our first story.

There was once an old mule … nearly useless … that had fallen into a well. A farmer heard the mule struggling … and sadly after assessing the situation, decided that neither the mule nor the old well was worth saving.

So he called his neighbors to help haul dirt to bury the mule in the well and put him out of his misery. Initially, the mule was frantic as the dirt poured down upon him! But as dirt rained down, it suddenly dawned on the mule that every time a shovel of dirt landed on his back … HE SHOULD SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP! ... and that’s exactly what he did. As more dirt was shoveled, he’d "Shake it off and step up!” The dirt kept coming and he’d "Shake it off and step up!” No matter how distressing the situation seemed, the mule put his panic aside … showed resolve ... and kept … SHAKING IT OFF AND STEPPING UP!

It wasn't long before the mule … battered and exhausted ... but having shown resolve … stepped triumphantly out of the well! Think about it … the piles of dirt that rained down upon him … something that seemed like it would bring about his demise … actually saved him ... all because he chose to handle his adversity with RESOLVE!

Gator graduates, every now and then each of us “falls in a well” so to speak … and sometimes it feels like “the dirt of unfortunate events” is burying us. Here is a picture of SPC Decker, a young mother of two away from her children in the 118-degree heat of Iraq turning wrenches. But like her, if we choose to face our challenges … and respond to them with RESOLVE … the adversities that seek to bury us (SLOWLY) almost always have within them the potential to give us the opportunity to "SHAKE IT OFF … AND STEP UP!

And now let’s shift from resolve to a story of temperance, a word often used to describe what we refrain from doing.

You and I make choices every day that impact our professional and personal life. It’s easy to say that our small choices don’t make a significant difference one way or another. But many great thinkers through the ages suggest otherwise. The bonds of trust we forge are strengthened or weakened with each decision we make. Our ability to choose how we treat others … our capacity to embrace temperance; reminds me of a story that offers tremendous wisdom.

One day a boy came to his grandfather for advice. The boy had been betrayed and was determined to get back at his friend for the injustice that had been done. Seeing the boy’s anger, his grandfather said that he too had been betrayed once by a close friend and had felt the great pain that often accompanies deceit. Seeing the agony on the boy’s face, his grandfather looked him in the eye and said, “Your two wolves are doing battle!”

The boy looked puzzled. His grandfather said, “Each of us has two wolves inside. One wolf is full of anger … full of envy and resentment. This wolf is driven by arrogance and ego. But the other wolf is good. He seeks peace and reconciliation. He is driven by benevolence, humility, and compassion. This wolf flourishes on hope, empathy, and faith.” The boy was silent for a moment, contemplating his grandfather’s words…and asked, “Grandfather, which of my two wolves is going to win?” His grandfather answered, “The wolf you choose to feed is the one that will win.”

Gator graduates, all of humanity has the exact same choice. It is often said that life is 10 percent what happens to us … and 90 percent how we react to it. Each of us will be hurt by someone we trust. Acts of betrayal, disloyalty, and deceit happen to everyone at various times in life. But never forget that we ALWAYS have a choice on which wolf to feed. I assure you, embracing temperance is one of the best ways to feed the wolf that leads to a life of significance and honor.

And now having heard stories of resolve and temperance, we shift to our story on integrity.

There once was an elderly king who didn’t have an heir. As you can imagine he was quite concerned about what would become of his kingdom.

The king had a wonderful talent for growing flowers. In fact, he was so fond of flowers that he chose to let flowers decide who would be heir to the throne. Against the advice of his advisors, the king decided to give a flower seed to each of his subjects. The person in the kingdom who could grow the most beautiful flower would be heir to the throne.

Well a young girl named Sara had always been mesmerized by the king's beautiful gardens and she was determined to grow the most beautiful flower. So off to work she went, planting her seed with care and precision, leaving nothing to chance. But after weeks of great care, nothing came up from the soil. Poor Sara, having shown great dedication … had nothing to show for her efforts but a flowerpot full of dirt.

Well, the big day eventually arrived when everyone would gather outside the palace gates. Sara didn’t even want to leave the house, but her father told her that she should take her pot and show that she had worked hard and done her best.

As you can imagine, there were thousands of beautiful flowers outside the palace gates. Imagine Sara's sadness when she stood there with nothing but a pot of soil. Soon the king walked through the palace gates, taking great care to inspect the splendid flowers. Soon he made his way to where Sara was standing…and to her astonishment the king inquired about her pot of soil. The king asked, “Dear girl why is your flowerpot empty?” Sara replied, "Your majesty, I don’t know. I did everything I could to make the seed grow. I took great care and did the best I could … but I failed.”

Hearing Sara’s response, a smile came across the king’s face. The king said, “Child look around you … and tell me what you see.” Sara replied, “I see many beautiful flowers your majesty.” “Well that’s not what I see” said the king. Instead of beautiful flowers, I see lies and deceit. Prior to distributing my seeds, I had all of them roasted. Nothing could have possibly grown from those seeds. Every flower you see outside my palace is a lie … every flower you see is a betrayal. But you young Sara, by your empty flowerpot you’ve shown faithfulness; you’ve shown loyalty; but most importantly you’ve shown integrity. You young Sara are the heir to the throne and will one day rule this kingdom.

Gator graduates, the indispensable quality for outstanding leadership is integrity. Going forward, in each of your fields of inquiry I encourage you to take young Sara’s example to heart … and do all that you can to ensure that integrity proudly and powerfully blooms in all your endeavors.

Let me close with this. It is my hope and prayer that these three stories will help you recall the value of resolve, temperance, and integrity as you strive for a life of consequence … for a life well-lived. Life is precious. In Iraq and Afghanistan, I saw the lives of many young people cut short; young people who never had the opportunity to make our world better through resolve, temperance, and integrity.

This is a picture I took as I flew into Afghanistan. As you can see, it sure doesn’t look like Gainesville!!! As you can see from this picture, I’m a world away from having a Krishna lunch on Plazas of the Americas. As a lifelong Floridian, there was also this cold white stuff on the ground. As an Army Chaplain I was there to help our Soldiers deal with the mental anguish of combat. I knew at some point I would come across someone who needed to hear the encouraging words of resolve, temperance, and integrity. This is Casey Allison. I was the first Chaplain to visit Casey after he was wounded in combat. A British Soldier had stepped on a landmine and Casey rushed in to carry him out of the kill zone. But in doing so, Casey stepped on a landmine himself, losing one leg and a most of one hand. It’s hard to know how to begin a discussion with someone who has just experienced such trauma … but as a Chaplain I usually begin with small talk. I asked him his name and where he’s from. He said, “Sir my name is Casey and I’m from Oregon.” Wanting to develop a rapport, I asked Casey, “Which of the two universities there in Oregon do you cheer for? Are you an Oregon Duck or an Oregon State Beaver?” He said, “Chaplain, I don’t cheer for either one of those teams. I’M A FLORIDA GATOR!” Struggling to fighting back tears, I said to this brave Marine, “Casey, I’m a Gator too!” As we both shed a few tears together, Casey said, “Sir, this is a picture of my infant daughter Ava. I’ve never even held her and she almost lost her dad yesterday. As Casey laid there in bed, having lost a leg and a hand ... and contemplating that he’d almost missed out on life with his daughter Ava, I told him the story about deciding which wolf to feed; anger and resentment at having lost a leg; or the wolf that sees his close call with death as a chance to live a life sharing love and hope. I told Casey the story of showing resolve by shaking off life’s setbacks and stepping up … stepping up to be the best father a daughter has ever known; all the while displaying the integrity that will make little Ava the proudest daughter in the world. And that’s exactly what Casey did. Here is a picture of our wounded Gator fan just after returning from Afghanistan with his two-month old daughter Ava and his wife Mia and here is a picture of Casey being promoted to Corporal.
Gator doctoral grads … RTI: Resolve, Temperance, and Integrity. When confronted with challenge, show resolve. In the face of anger, call on temperance. And in all endeavors, let integrity be your guide. Imagine the beauty of a world full of RTI Gators who are professors at universities, scientists at research institutes, and leaders in industry! Imagine Gator doctoral graduates pioneering new technologies, new medical treatments and new knowledge of humanity, our world, and our universe. Let that great future begin here with each of us; the few, the proud, the Gator nation! GO GATORS!

UF News December 16, 2022