Transcript of Trustee Nancy Archuleta's speech

Trustee Nancy ArchuletaJanuary 17, 2006
Plumley Armory
Norwich University
Northfield, Vermont

Thank you all very much for coming, this afternoon, to listen. I know you probably didn't have much choice, but it's all part of what you're doing here, and I'm very honored to be here amongst this very distinguished group. You all are our future leaders. You are the protectors of our nation. You are so many things, and I am very humbled to be in your presence. Thank you.

When Mike Kelley called and said, "Would you be interested in doing this?" I think he can tell you it took me all of thirty seconds to say, "Absolutely. I would love to come and talk a little bit about diversity." What I didn't tell him at the time--and only a few moments ago said-- "You know, I'm taking a whole different pitch on the diversity issue."

I know that this week we're commemorating Martin Luther King--a very, very great man--a man who stood for his principles and what he believed in, and showed that, with the right type of leadership, you can get people to understand your vision and your goal. And so it's wonderful that we have the opportunity to have an assembly of this nature. But I'm not really going to talk about Martin Luther King, per se. I'm going to talk more about what I believe he represented, and how each of you can wake up that little bit of Martin Luther King in each and every one of us. And in some of us it's a very sleepy giant, and so how do you wake that sleeping giant up?

I'm here this afternoon to say to you, "Wake Up!" Wake up, because you are not allowed to sleep. You represent the future of this country. You'll hear that all the time. And I know when I talk to my grandchildren--a couple of them your age--they say, "Yes, Grandma, but how do I do that? Mom and Dad always tell me that I'm the future, and it sounds so daunting. How can I do that? I'm just one person. How do I become a part of the future? What recommendations do you have?"

And my answer to my grandchildren, young and your age, is simply this--it's a question--and the question is: Are you willing to wake up? Are you willing to take on the challenges? Are you willing to be awake enough to see the opportunities that are ahead of you? To be a part of the future? Or are you going to let the future just roll right over you? Because, you see, everything we're going to talk about this afternoon is about attitude and what your attitude is about certain things. What is your philosophy, and how do you bring that philosophy forth? So, first I ask you, wake up every morning and ask yourself: "What am I going to do today to participate in life?" What am I going to do today to participate in life? And then, when you go to bed that night, or sometime during the day, reflect: "Am I doing what I said I was going to do this morning?"

I'm not asking you to make a plan that takes you into 2019. I'm not asking you to make a plan that takes you into tomorrow. I'm asking you to have a plan for today. I know when I wake up, I fit the perfect representation of Grumpy in the seven dwarfs. My husband wakes up in the morning and he's Dopey...well, that's probably most of the day...but, anyway... Who are you? Which one of those characters are you when you wake up? Let's ask ourselves the important question, which is: "What am I going to do today to make a contribution?"

Well, right about now you're probably thinking, "What is all this that she's saying? I haven't heard the first word yet about diversity. I haven't heard the first word yet about why I thought I was here. And why I was called to this assembly. What is she driving at?" I hope you're asking yourself that question.

I'm going to tell you a little story. Back in 1985, I was approached about starting a company. I didn't know a thing about government contracting; I didn't know a thing about missile systems; I knew nothing about what I ultimately ended up building a company in. Nothing. Zero. Somebody showed me a circuit board, and I'll never forget, I said, "Oh, that looks like a little city." Of course now you all don't use circuit boards. Now everything is an integrated circuit or a chip. When I was brought the opportunity to invest in this company that was going to be starting up, I didn't have any money. But I had a good reputation with a bank, and they lent me some money, and we got started, along with four other people. Some things happened. One of those people ultimately said I didn't know what I was doing, and my answer was, "You're absolutely right, but at least I'm not spending all the money like you are. I have a plan for how we can make this company grow." And he said, "Well, if you think you can do it better, then I'm out of here." That was four months after we started the company. And he was the technical person--he was the person on whom we had built the whole concept of building the company called Mevatec. So I set about to learn everything that I could about what I was into, here. I had just remarried, and I'd been single for nine years. I had four children that I had raised by myself. So yes, I had no money; I had no real resources. The only thing I had was my ability to look at a situation and try to make the best of it. I was already in debt. I had to get out of debt.

I had an opportunity to go from Las Cruces, New Mexico--the desert, very dry, six inches of rain a year, if we're lucky--to Huntsville, Alabama, where I was offered a government contract that would ultimately launch my company. I said to myself, "Alabama! What am I going to do in Alabama?" And I called a friend of mine and I said, "You know, I have this opportunity, but it means I've got to move to Huntsville, Alabama." And he said, "Nancy, let me tell you what I would do. I'd go to the dark side of the moon to make a profit, if that's what was required of me." And I took that to heart, and I went back and I told my family, "Guess what, we're moving to Huntsville, Alabama."

Diversity is not defined by the color of your skin. I would contend to you that diversity is not even defined by your gender. It's not defined by your religious preference. None of those things, in my estimation, fit into the definition of diversity. If you are going to be a truly diverse person, or a person who embraces diversity, what you will embrace is culture. What you will embrace is your fellow person and their differences. And you will look beyond their differences, and try to find the similarities, and build upon those in order to have a successful approach to diversity. I think that diversity as defined in today's world focuses far too much on the differences. We need to focus on the similarities.

I got to Huntsville, Alabama, and the first person I met came up to me and said, "Ha! Do you speak Hi-Spanic?"

And I said, "Hi-Spanic?"

And she said, "Yeah, you know, Hi-Spanic, are you a Hi-Spanic?"

"Oh," I said, "am I Hispanic? Do I speak Spanish?"

"Yes, yes," she said, "Exactly. I just love people who talk Hi-Spanic!"

I had two choices. I could go with the flow, or I could embrace what she was trying to say, and take the opportunity to talk to her about what it means to be Hispanic. We met on the airplane going into Huntsville, and I went on to tell her a little bit about who I was and what I was, the fact that I am a fifth-generation Mexican-American, one quarter Apache Indian. And I like to tell people "You know, I'm usually pretty much of a Latin lover, but don't get the Apache mad, because I could have your scalp by five o'clock." So I was telling her all about this, and I said, "You know, it's really interesting, under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo down in Mesilla, New Mexico, where my ancestors lived, we got assimilated into the U.S. because all of a sudden we were bought and became a part of the U.S., so the border was moved for us." And we had a great ole laugh about that, and by the time we got through, she knew I was Hispanic and I knew definitely she was from the South, and I knew how to cook grits. And she asked me, "Do you think grits and enchiladas are gonna taste good together?" I said, "I don't know, but maybe we should get together and try them."

Eighteen months later, this woman was my best customer. Unknown to me, she worked at the space and missile defense command and awarded me an $11 million contract. I didn't know that. Do you realize what that moment of attitude, what the difference could have been--had I worn a chip on my shoulder and said, "Hi-Spanic? Who says Hi-Spanic? Doesn't she have any respect for who I am?" She was very well-intentioned. She honestly thought that the way that you pronounce H-I-S-P-A-N-I-C was Hi-Spanic. And she still does, by the way, so that didn't change, but $11 million dollars later I really didn't care what she said.

You all are here at Norwich University, and you have an opportunity sitting right next to you. The person sitting right next to you brings a legacy, a culture. The people you walk into or bump into on campus, the person you study with, the person you eat lunch with, your professors, General Schneider, every person allows you an opportunity to practice diversity, to become an individual that is diverse. I remember when I was growing up I went to school at a time when I would get slapped if I spoke Spanish in class. I wasn't allowed to speak Spanish in class--that was the wrong thing to do. And I remember going home one day and being very angry at my mother. We spoke predominantly English at home, but my grandparents didn't speak English, so we were forced to know both languages. And I remember coming home very angry because I had been slapped by my teacher for speaking Spanish on the school ground, and I said, "I'm never speaking Spanish again. It's embarrassing." And my mother looked at me, and she said, "Did you know, that when you speak two languages, you count for two people?" She said, "You can be two people. Don't let anybody take that away from you."

In those days there wasn't much you could do. You just went with the flow. I went back to school the next day; I didn't speak Spanish on the playground; I didn't speak Spanish in the classroom; I pretty much didn't speak at all, because I was still pretty mad at that teacher. But fortunately my mother was wise enough to point out to me that knowing two languages was the valuable thing. There was value in knowing that. There is value in understanding cultures. I've now lived in Huntsville, Alabama, for almost fifteen years. I've learned a whole knew culture, and, yes, honey, I can cook grits right up there with the best of them. And I still throw the best Christmas parties where we make tamales and menudo and enchiladas and tacos and all that good stuff, and everybody wants to come to that party.

It's embracing, it's embracing the beauty of the person next to you that's what this week is all about. Martin Luther King had a real mission in mind. He was trying to correct some of the injustices that had been done historically to the black population. There was a lot that was done. Those of you that study history know that. There were tremendous atrocities against Native Americans in this country: tremendous atrocities, some endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt, who said that the savages should be put in their place. So there are a lot of those things that need to be corrected. But the way you correct them, today--and it is because of people like Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez, and others, that it has been brought to our attention--the way we can change it is by embracing and respecting each other. I don't agree with everything everybody in Huntsville, Alabama, says, nor do they agree with me, but that's the beauty of this country, and that's why you're wearing a uniform, so that we can continue to do that. It's not an easy job; we've got a lot of issues to face, but are you up for the challenge? Can you be awake and stay awake long enough to be up to the challenge?

When Mike asked me, "What shall I say you're going to talk about?" I said, "Well let's say this, let's call this, 'Let your ego.'" So how do you spell ego? [Answer from the audience: E-G-O.] I'm going to tell you another little story. I have a very good friend who is going through a very hard time. He is battling alcoholism. He'll always battle alcoholism. Alcohol is a terrible thing. And he was talking to me one day and we were talking about the fact that in the Hispanic culture and in the Native American culture from which I am descended, we have such a big problem with alcoholism. And how do we address it--do we start at the schools? What do we do? And he said--and at the time I didn't know he was going through this--he said, "I'm going to share something very private with you. I want to tell you a story, Nancy, because you know me, and I think you'll understand it." And this is a man, you know, who had it all together, solid, so I was just really taken aback when he told me what he told me. He said, "One of the requirements in AA is that I get a sponsor, so I went and I found a sponsor." And this is a man with a doctorate. He says, "You'll never guess who my sponsor is. He's a man; he's Hispanic; he's got a sixth-grade education. But he's been sober for 32 years, so I thought he'd be a good guy to pick as my sponsor, because he's very different from what I am. So the first time we met, he said 'You need to meet me at my house.'" And so my friend goes to his house, a very humble little house, and he brings him into the living room, and immediately says, "Come here, come with me." He opens the door, and there is this dark room, totally dark room, and he says, "Walk in there," which my friend does, and he says, "Find a chair and sit down," and then he closes the door. My friend can't see anything, so he starts to scream, "What the heck are you doing? I can't see! I'm gonna stumble! How can I find the chair you want me to sit in? What's going on? I didn't come here for this! What are you doing to me?" And on, and on, and on. And finally--I'll make up a name, here--finally, Eduardo says to my friend, "Just find the chair and sit down." So he gropes around, still cursing, until he finds the chair and sits down. And then Eduardo says, "Now, close your eyes, and open them, again, and be quiet." And my friend said, "And I did. And when I opened my eyes, lo and behold, through a crack in the window through the blinds I could see there was a light there. There was a night light off in the corner that I hadn't noticed. The room wasn't that dark at all. And then Eduardo hands me a card, and on the card are three letters: I-G-O. And I ask, 'What does this mean?' And he says, 'Well, do you see the light now? Are you quiet now? Can you be quiet and listen a minute?'" And so my friend says, "Yeah, I'll be quiet, I'll be quiet. But what's this I-G-O?" And Eduardo says, "Ego, man! That's ego! You gotta let your e-go!" So my friend looked at it said, "Ego? Ego's not spelled I-G-O." And Eduardo says, "Well in Spanish it is." You pronounce the "i" like an "e" in Spanish, by the way. He didn't know how to spell. But my friend's point was that, by the time he got through, he said, "I understood totally that when I let my self go, when I opened up a little bit, I could see the light, I could actually make out the furniture in the room, and pretty soon I felt like there was a light on, that I had not been in the dark at all. And I walked out of there, and I asked him for the card that had spelled ego, I-G-O, and I stuck it on my mirror at home, and every morning I remind myself that I have to let my self go. That this isn't about me. It's about what I'm doing for others. That I can't concentrate on myself. Because when he threw me in that so-called dark room all I could think of was my self--I was gonna get hurt, I didn't know where to go, I had been mislead. Everything was about I, I, I, and that was the way my whole life had been. Eduardo made me see that I have to let that I go, that I have to let the ego."

And I contend--and this is the story I share with my grandchildren when they ask me what they can do--that to be a meaningful part of the future, you have to let your "ego".

Have you had a conversation with someone this morning, that if I asked you what color their eyes were, you could tell me? Are you listening? Are you paying attention? Are you alert to the needs of others? To the cares of others? That's what leadership is. Leadership isn't about you. Leadership is about how you can motivate and instill in the next person the ability to get a job done. They're not going to follow you because you're good-looking, because you're tall, because you're short, because you're black, because you're red, because you're anything. Because you're a woman. Because you're a man. No. They're going to follow you because they believe in you, and the only way they're going to learn to believe in you is for you to know them. For you to have a relationship with an individual to where they trust you enough to go into that dark room regardless.

At Norwich University we build leaders. Out in the world when I tell people that I'm going to Norwich University, and they say, "What? Norwich? Where's Norwich? What are you doing?" I tell them it's the best school I've ever found. It's the best-kept secret in the United States. Because we're training leaders. And it's not just leaders in uniform. It's leaders from all walks of life. People that will penetrate this country, and make a difference in this country. You have that. You have that ability today--to make a difference--by embracing a concept of diversity that doesn't look at color, that doesn't look at gender, that doesn't look at any of those things, but looks merely at: you are different from me, and thank goodness for that, because if we were all the same, this would be a very boring world. Because we are different, we have opportunities that others don't have. That's your mission.

Your mission, in order to make a difference, is, as Mahatma Ghandi says, be the change you wish to see in others. Your challenge is to be the change you wish to see in others. That to me is what diversity is all about. That to me is how you lead. It worked for me. I took three people from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and I built a company that I ultimately sold the year that we had revenues of 140 million dollars. I employed almost 500 people. I didn't do it. Those 500 people did. And I'd like to believe it's because I believed in them.