Taking a Risk

Things have changed since I left, but when I was at UTSA, we had five graduation ceremonies in the Convocation Center (the basketball arena). The processional order was students, faculty, then the platform party. I was in the platform party, usually seated front row, stage left. Our line of faculty and campus leaders was in position to see half of the students stream by on their way to their seats, which was always so much fun.

On one particular day, a staff member who worked backstage during commencement came to pull me out of line. The student line was stalled for a moment. That wasn’t unusual since getting everyone into a seat  slowed the process down intermittently. What was unusual was that some students had come to the staff member concerned about the drunk student standing with them. They got Sally, Sally got me. I went over to talk to the student. They were right. He was drunk. But he really, really wanted to go through commencement. After a very quick assessment, because the line was slowly starting to move. I told him he could go, but if he caused a problem, the police would pull him and arrest him. I asked him if he could hold it together and he assured me he could. We let him get back in line. Part of my decision was based on the fact that he was at the end of the line so he would be seated at the very back. Plus, Sally and her husband, who was there as a staff volunteer would be able to sit on the row behind him and call for help if needed.

I spent the first half or so of commencement wondering if I had made the wrong decision. Luckily for all of us, he caused no problem in the audience. He also made it across the stage without embarrassing himself or anyone else. I learned afterward from Sally, that he had stayed quietly in his seat and spent most of his time mesmerized by the swinging tassel on his cap. I don’t know if he remembers going across the stage, but at least he had the opportunity and the risk I took for him caused no problem for anyone.

Taking a risk on someone is one of the best things we can do. Sure, there’s always the possibility that things won’t go well, and we need to consider those possibilities in our decision-making. But when working with someone who wants to take on a new challenge in their job, or wants to try a new sport, or come back to school after being suspended, taking a risk and helping them succeed at the new responsibility is truly a gift we can give someone else.
Take a moment and think back. Where have you taken a risk on someone? How did it turn out? As I think about it, perhaps I’ve been too cautious and not taken enough risks, because most of the examples I can think of turned out well. Actually, I suspect that’s the nature of the process. Most of the time, people who want to be challenged or to challenge themselves are good bets, so to speak.

Now, go the other way. Who took a risk on you at some point in your life? Or who supported you as you took a risk? Even if it didn’t turn out perfectly, I imagine the risk you took taught you a new skill or something about yourself. Both are valuable outcomes.

So, think about taking a risk on or for someone today. Be sensible about it, but maybe just maybe you can help someone stretch into new experiences. Maybe, just maybe, you will have stretched into something new as well. Remember as *Larraine Matusak said, “Risk-taking is definitely something that can be learned…. In fact, the process is quite simple. Try new things. Be creative. Put yourself in situations that are slightly uncomfortable – stretch.” After all this stretching or risk-taking for oneself or with and for others is one more leadership skill we can learn and improve upon.

Happy stretching!

Take care,


*Finding Your Voice… Learning to Lead Any Where You Want to Make a Difference by Larraine Matusak

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