It all started with a TED talk on leadership, Courtney Miller told her classmates in the opening of her class address during Saturday’s Investiture ceremony.
The talk inspired her to leave a decade-long career in the United States Army to come to business school. Miller—Captain Miller at the time—listened as TED speaker Roselinde Torres asked, “Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?” Yes, Miller thought, Yes, that’s me! I’m ready and I’m courageous. So she resigned her commission and left behind a career that saw deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and culminated in her serving as a support operations officer in “The Old Guard,” also known as the official escort to the President of the United States at Arlington Cemetery.
Prior to coming to Tuck, Miller believed the best way to succeed was to maintain a “stoic professionalism.” As the only female officer out of 700 men, she felt it necessary to hide behind the comfort of her Captain Miller “facade,” never allowing any overlap of her personal and professional identities. “In order to blend in with my surroundings and succeed,” Miller said, “I put up a wall.”
If we see people as one dimensional, as defined by their job, rank, class, gender, nationality, or race, we are doing them a disservice. We are, in fact, doing ourselves a disservice.
Later, as the only female veteran in the Tuck class of 2017, Miller had assumed she would follow the same strategy to navigate her new challenges at business school. A self-described introvert, just the issue of what to wear felt unnerving, given Miller had worn a uniform for the past 23 years, first in Catholic School, then at West Point where she graduated in 2009, and then every day in the army. Looking out at the sea of robes at Investiture, Miller joked, “Today is an example of my perfect day, as it pertains to getting dressed.”
Miller shared with her audience that her practice of putting up walls—“of keeping my true self with all its idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities, maybe even paradoxes, locked away”—began to crumble early in her tenure at Tuck. Encouraged by the diversity of opportunities to bond with peers in and outside of class, she recalled thinking, “Maybe I should participate a little, so as not to arouse suspicion.”
Tuck Talks, cross-cultural gatherings, cabin nights, hockey games, reunions and then reunions for the reunions... From her participation in the richness that is life at Tuck, Miller claimed to have learned from her classmates two of the most important lessons on leadership. The first is that the best leaders do not put up walls; they take them down. The second is that every single person has a rich past, a personal history that’s filled with their life experiences and hopes. If we see people as one dimensional, as defined by their job, rank, class, gender, nationality, or race, we are doing them a disservice. We are, in fact, doing ourselves a disservice.
In closing, Miller posed this question to her fellow graduates: “Am I like you all—authentic, open, and embracing of yourselves and your past, wearing your identities as true medals of pride and honor?” In answer to her own question, Miller openly admitted, “I wasn’t before. Now I am striving to be. And I hope you will continue to do the same.”
Enjoy the Investiture slideshow below or watch the full livestream. (Photos by Rob Strong.)