GERALD BEPKO Commentary: Unusual students offer hope for future

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Commentary Unusual students offer hope for future

I often say this is the best time in the history of the world to be alive and that Indianapolis is among the best places. I believe this devoutly, but every now and then my sanguine outlook is put to the test. For example, I heard that author Jim Collins recently opened a discussion by asking if America had gone from “great to good.”

Usually, I’m able to stay focused on our positive future by being around students who always give me confidence that each new generation will be up to whatever challenge awaits. This year was no exception, but it wasn’t a group of university students that kept me in focus. It was a group I was privileged to meet as the members of Class XXIX of the Stanley K. Lacy Executive Leadership Series.

The SKL program is a tribute to Stanley K. Lacy, a young bank executive who died in an auto accident in 1973. Stanley’s mother, Edna Lacy, concluded that a fitting memorial would be a program based in the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce to encourage young people to know more about Indianapolis, to meet and listen to those who already had assumed the mantle of leadership, to learn the importance in life of civic participation and responsibility, and to stay and lead our community.

Now, more than 30 years later, the SKL program she started is an important fixture of our community that each year attracts 25 emerging leaders from business, government, the professions and not-for-profits. Over the years, more than 750 people have graduated from this program and they have made an indelible mark on our city and state.

This year, as SKL moderator, I invited a number of people to speak. As I started to explain SKL, I would hear such things as, “Jerry, I know. I was in SKL Class XV.” I found out that among the leaders of our city there are few who have not been involved as a class member, moderator or speaker.

SKL has been led and nurtured over the years by Stanley’s sibling, the widely respected community leader and arts patron Margot Eccles. She manages the Lacy Foundation support to sustain SKL, provides the discipline and traditions that have made it endure and grow stronger, and attends many of the programs to help the moderator guide the learning process. Betsy Shaw Elsasser, with the assistance of Cheerie Bultman, oversees admissions and administration so SKL operates smoothly and efficiently.

While the SKL program has had an important impact on our city, this year’s class had an important impact on me for three reasons. The students bonded in a strong network of friendships, in which I hope I can participate the rest of my life. They were a teacher’s dream-a group of students who became avid learners right out of the gate. And they provided just the inoculation I needed to keep my belief that this is the best time to be alive and Indianapolis is the best place to be.

If Class XXIX is representative of our emerging leadership, I am confident we will rise to meet any challenge, including globalization in a “flat world” or horrifying school dropout rates.

As for the commitment of the class, one member (CEO of a major not-for-profit) summed it up this way: “When I joined this class, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where. I’m still not exactly sure what I want to do with the rest of my life, but now I know where it will be.”

Bepko is IUPUI chancellor emeritus and Indiana University Trustees’ Professor at IUPUI. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at

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