2017 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient: Jane Strode Miller ’81

2017 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient: Jane Strode Miller ’81


I believe so strongly that a business education is great, but a liberal arts education is essential. Oh gosh, there were so many experiences that had impact on me. I think probably my experience being a Russian Studies major and the closeness of the group of people. It was a very small group that were Russian Studies majors, I would say, probably just a handful. And our professor was someone who kind of kept us under his wing and really helped me be very confident about my ability to express my point of view and to be somebody that could actually have a point of view. And even as a young woman, to be able to be listened to, sort of with the same kind of impression that you’d have with someone that was older and more experienced. So I think having that at an early age really helped me develop confidence, so when I left Knox and I went out into the business world, I felt like my voice could be heard and I had something worth saying. I was so impressed, I had a chance to speak twice yesterday and have a lunch with a group of students and then have a lunch today and then actually meet one-on-one
with a couple of students. So it’s been kind of all students, all the time for the last twenty-four hours and it’s been amazing. A couple of things really struck me. The first was the diversity of the group, which is so different than when I was here. I mean, looking out in the audience, it was just so exciting to see a wide range of nationalities, obviously, genders, and just, as people asked questions, diversity of point of view was just another thing that I always really look for in terms of looking for diverse organizations, or, in this case, a diverse student group. So that was the first thing, was really the diversity. The second thing was the amazing
questions that they asked, I mean, they were so insightful and very well-prepared, and it was just one of those things where I think back to when I was here, I don’t know that I could’ve held a conversation with an adult such as myself without being just very intimidated about it and I think that they, all the students asked very, very good questions and were very, very thoughtful. I thought that was really terrific. I feel like they were very well-prepared. Many of them had read my blog, knew about my book, and so they knew about me. I was just so impressed at the maturity of the group, and I was here just two years ago for the summit that was held in December, and I would say, even versus then, the students just seemed so much more on their game and really ready to go out in the world, so I was just very, very impressed. I’m not sure if it’s a trait, but I guess it’s— let me tell you what it is and I guess we can see if this is the right word or not. The one thing that I learned early on was to treat everybody exactly the same: so whether it is the janitor at a company or the chairman of the board. Very early on, I think it was because of my mother’s experience doing a number of low-paying jobs because she didn’t have an education, that I realized that every person really needed to be treated the same way because she wasn’t treated very well because she didn’t have an education and she wasn’t the CEO of a company. And so, in my experience, I think the thing that has really benefitted me the most and I learned from my mom, and I’m sure that I learned it here at Knox, too, just because you never knew who was rich or who was poor, y’know, what anybody’s background. It was just such an equalizing experience here. And so, I think, when I went out in the business world, the thing that set me apart is I treat everybody the same, and I think one of the reasons that I’ve been so successful is that, if everybody feels like they’re on equal footing, they’re going to do things for you that you could just never have imagined. And I’m not that person that talks differently to somebody who’s more senior versus someone that’s more junior. And I think that comes, again, from my growing up and also from here at Knox, where everything felt very equal and very fair. I have a couple of pieces of advice. I think the first thing that I would say is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because there’s just going to be so many opportunities to try things, and if you’re afraid that you’re
going to do something wrong, then you’re not going to have the full experience of being a young adult out in the world, and part of that experience is just making mistakes. The second thing is something that I actually took from Cheryl Strayed, who wrote “Wild,” which is this concept of running your own race. So many people that I know are so concerned about how they compare themselves to other people, that you can just never, ever be that perfect person. So I could compare myself to you, who’s really beautiful, or somebody else who’s very smart, or someone who’s really athletic, and you kind of take the best qualities of every person and try to compare yourself to them. And it’s so unfair for yourself when you’re going out into the world to think you have to be that perfect person. So I think really trying to understand what is the core thing about you and being really proud about that and really bringing that to the world, as opposed to being somebody else. So I think it’s making mistakes and being your own person, and I think if I had those two pieces of advice when I graduated from college, I would’ve had a much faster start than I did.

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