Change the World
May 4th has such significance in Kent’s history, and arguably in the history of this nation, that I waited in anxious anticipation to be in Kent for my first May 4th. I wasn’t disappointed.
Honoring the spirit of May 4th, Kent State University hosted a symposium on Democracy that brought together some of the brightest and most thoughtful minds to Kent to celebrate the legacy that began on that fateful day in 1970. I was too young to understand it at the time but old enough now to appreciate it’s impact on a nation.
The events of Kent State changed the war and changed the world. That day showed that Kent would not be a bystander. As City Manager, I try to never lose sight of that legacy. It’s why I came to Kent. I work to make sure the City of Kent lives up to the promise of being a place that is capable of changing the world. That torch has been passed and I hope we can use it to light our way to a brighter future for Kent that starts with us.
I actually have a very personal link back to May 4, 1970. About 7 years ago I had the good fortune of spending some time at the University of Virginia to participate in a senior leadership development program. The program brings together public employees from all over the country to work with faculty from the Cooper School for Public Service and the Darden Business School.
The UVA program is highly regarded and competes with Harvard for being the “best of the best” in producing this country’s next generation of public professionals. Where Harvard’s traditional case method program focuses on the hardware of leadership; UVA focuses on software — people, values and leadership philosophy.
UVA is more group therapy soul searching than ordinance and administrative order writing. As a result, it doesn’t just fill heads with more technical know-how, it makes them better people. The program’s creators believed that better people, who value democratic principles, build better communities.
This unconventional people-centered approach taught at UVA changes peoples lives. The graduates of the UVA program then change the lives of the people that work with them, and together they all change the communities that they serve.
UVA has some exceptionally talented people that have built a national reputation for the program. But the heart and soul of the UVA program can be traced back to a man who had a vision of using the academic experience to change the nation’s communities one person at a time.
Meeting that one person was why I changed career paths and decided to be a city manager. He challenged me to give more of myself to building my community. He made me a better person. This one person is admired by all who meet him for his genuineness, his wisdom, and his kindness. He is a mentor to all.
If you ask him why he does it? What motivates him? He will privately talk about the life changing event he had as Vice President of Student Affairs at Kent State University in May 1970. What he saw, what he experienced, changed him forever. Like many, the pain of the tragedy returns whenever he’s asked to talk about it — so he rarely brings it up.
My friend Bob Matson is why I am here. I saw how he channeled the lessons of the tragedy into a career of lifelong public service that he magnifies by teaching others what really matters in life and why this thing called democracy is an amazing and fragile thing that needs the best minds and hearts working to protect it.
I’m sure there were many days that Bob wished he’d been somewhere else on May 4, 1970 but he’s made that his sacrifice for the rest of us who are better for having met and learned from him. In a way, the burden that lies heavy on his heart has been the nation’s gain as city managers across this country practice government the way Bob Matson dreamed it could be.
Bob is living proof that the Kent legacy is still changing the world and it’s a better place because of it.