Time to be the Change: An Open Letter to Our Doctoral Students

Shannon Brown Change, Doctoral Program

Editor’s Note: On April 7, just a little over a week ago, the Center for Values-Driven Leadership’s first cohort of executive doctoral students completed their coursework and became “A.B.D.” (All But Dissertation). The following post was written by one student, Shannon Brown, and reflects on her experiences as a doctoral student in the program. 
On April 1, 2011, twenty-five individuals came together to embark upon the first cohort of the only doctoral program in Values Driven Leadership in the world. As our stories unfolded during that first residency, underneath our different careers, life paths, religious beliefs and personal dreams, aspirations and situations lay a common core of belief that we were part of something bigger and that we have an obligation to contribute to the world in ways that honor and care for the planet and the people who inhabit it. We opened with a focus on our life legacy – those intangible contributions for which we want to be remembered decades from now – focused around the quote by Gandhi that kicked off our first course, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
737 days later, having completed 490 classroom hours, over 10,000 pages of reading and 1,500+ hours studying outside the classroom, not to mention the deep conversations, frustration, tears and more laughter than I remember in my lifetime prior, we gathered to conclude our academic course work and transition into the final phase of our program, the dissertation. It was fitting that the ending of our coursework coincided with the beginning of coursework for Cohort 2, a 23-member group of people from all different industries, backgrounds and family situations.
Looking back, I realized that Cohort 1 came together in that space, and at that time, specifically intent on creating positive change in the world and intentionally working to align all aspects of our lives to serve that purpose. And as I participated in the opening dinner and was granted the privilege of hearing the members of Cohort 2 share their stories about why they chose this program, what they hoped it to be, and how they planned to use that knowledge in their lives, I realized that our membership has grown. We began with 22 people who wanted to change the world and were committed to a systematic way of approaching that goal.  Now our numbers have doubled, to 45, in just two years.
Of course that number does not include the dedicated CVDL faculty and staff and all of the distinguished visiting scholars who supported us along our journey even though the program was new and different and a departure from a traditional doctoral program. Thank you to all of you for your ability to think outside the box and see value in a different way of approaching post-graduate education.
As I walked out of Kindlon 164 for the last time, after lingering well past the official conclusion of Sunday’s final class meeting, I was filled with sadness at the ending of an experience that was truly once in a lifetime, yet smiling with hope for the future and anticipation of the good things to come, and I remembered Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Farewell, Cohort 1. The time has come for us to be the change.
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Shannon Brown is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and a VP for Exemplify. She has served in leadership positions with Thomson Reuters and Tata Consultancy Services. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University where she teaches courses in leadership studies.