A group of Wake Forest Board of Trustee members and Campaign Committee Chairs, along with their spouses, gathered over dinner on June 22, 2017, at Farrell Hall on Wake Forest’s campus to discuss leadership and character.

Our group began by sharing a time when we saw character in action. Several examples of individuals were given – specifically doing things that touched others or made a difference in people’s lives. We discovered that our wonderful list of small acts in life add up to big character development over time. We also noted that character shines brightly when someone does something positive “when nobody is looking.” Examples of people serving others with no expectation of praise, or anything in return, were given. But we found the greatest examples of character were people who take action when “everybody is looking.” These actions lead to defining moments when one’s mettle is put to the test and builds upon a lifetime of character development.

We began a group discussion about where character comes from and whether character can be taught. Our group’s consensus was that character can indeed be taught, and that it builds upon foundational experiences one develops in youth, but grows over time. We heard a poignant example about how great character touches the lives of many people, and sometimes is not realized in the present – but only after a community loses someone. One particular topic resonated with our group: Character is what guides us when the path forward is not clear.

We applied this discussion to our responsibility to build character in adolescence and connected it to providing additional opportunities in college. All of us felt that clarifying the importance of character development was a crucial task of the university in general, and at Wake Forest in particular. This consensus naturally lead to a conversation about what things Wake Forest is doing today, and what we could do better. After a lengthy discussion, we dove into even deeper meaning: how faculty, staff and students play a big role in modeling behavior and providing positive character traits. Some “great” faculty members were noted here.

The conversation concluded with all of us sharing what we took away from the conversation, and some clear themes emerged:

  • Ordinary acts of kindness build character early.
  • People of character are taught by great individuals.
  • Character raises us up to be our best selves.
  • We have a responsibility to continue character training through the college years.
  • Character development must be treated as important but innovative to be deemed relevant to today’s students.

A final thought was that we wish other people could hear what we did this evening so they understand why we are so proud of Wake Forest.