I had been at Texas A&M for six years when my wife began having serious heart issues. In September of that year, she went in for a heart procedure in hopes of addressing the problem. I almost brought her home too soon from that procedure, and I could have lost her if I did. Life took on a new clarity for me, both in its brevity and its sweetness. In a sense, our borrowed time began.
But my clearest memory of that time was my students’ response. I remember being presented with two get-well cards for her and thanking the class for their kindness.
My TA, who had arranged for the cards, approached me after class and said, “You don’t understand.” Then she showed me this picture on her phone.
This queue was the first of two that formed on separate days to sign the card for the World’s Most Beautiful Woman (or the WMBW), as she is known to my students. I wrote a blog about it then that I simply called “The Line,” struck by how blessed I was to walk through life’s challenges in this amazing place with these special young men and women. I honestly would never be the same in the way I viewed students after that day. Nor could I ever be anything but loyal to this place through all the ups and downs of an academic career.
My friend and pastor Brian Fisher recently said, “Some things matter, and some things don’t.” In September 2012, I gained a new clarity and focus on what really matters, and it changed the trajectory of my life and career.
Elizabeth Holmes gained new clarity last week in a court in California. In 2015, the central focus of her life was the one thing that really mattered, and that was making her company, Theranos, a success. Then John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal wrote the first of several articles based on the testimony of two courageous whistleblowers that revealed the shortcuts, technology failures, and misrepresentations made by Theranos. Developing Theranos’s technology legitimately would have provided the added bonus of benefitting all of society by allowing an easy way to be tested for a litany of diseases with one very small blood sample. Doing it the way she did it, however, led not only to a documentary and a movie about the case but to an indictment and, eventually, to a conviction on four fraud charges.
In the years that passed leading up to the trial, Ms. Holmes gave birth to her first child and is pregnant with her second. I have a friend who handed off her twin baby boys to step into federal prison, and having heard her story, I feel compassion for anyone in that situation. My thought was that the judge sentencing Ms. Holmes, especially with the quality of the legal representation that $30 million would buy, would be lenient. He was not. She was sentenced, quite mechanically based on the dollars of the damage attributed to her behavior, to 11 years and three months in prison.
She is due to report on April 27 of next year, after the birth of her second child. Her release date, assuming an unsuccessful appeal of her conviction, would likely be sometime in 2031 or 2032. At this point, nothing matters at all except for the fact that she will miss half of her children’s childhood.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of FTX, whose crypto kingdom crumbled earlier this month, is having a new level of clarity introduced into his life. He is in the very early stages of this process, early enough that he still seems under the delusion that he can raise additional capital sufficient to make all this go away. But the hubris of a few months ago melted quickly into a panic in the last few weeks as the truth came out about the carelessness with which he ran his operation. This “carelessness” will likely be characterized by federal prosecutors under other names, all of which are felonies. As news trickles out, it appears that his parents, both Stanford law professors, may potentially be entangled financially in his situation. I have no doubt that he will receive the best defense possible. And I cannot deny that sometimes people get away with big failures. But normally, even when the wheels of justice grind slowly, they grind. And Mr. Bankman-Fried may be about to find that out.
This month we were told that my wife would need her eighth procedure since 2012, this time the replacement of her pacemaker, as soon as possible. We were surprised by the urgency, but we arranged for it to be done by the same doctor who had performed the other procedures in Austin. As we stepped out of the elevator at the doctor’s office last week, I checked my email and found one from my current Auditing students that simply consisted of this:
Since I had just given them grades on their second exam, I can guarantee you that they have a good reason not to be happy with me. I did not anticipate this gift, even after my experience ten years ago. In a time of my life where I am challenged to see that my life is making a difference, I was reminded again of what really matters.
Because, in a world where young people are struggling with self-image and purpose, where they wonder why they are here, I am surrounded by a group who step beyond those questions to love others well in their time of need. Of course, the internal motivations of these students, the way they were raised, their faith and moral convictions all contribute to their choice to step into others’ lives.
But you cannot convince me that this happens everywhere. And, ten years later, a group of students who never saw that first blog have reminded me again why I am here. And while I would love to see my students succeed when they go out, and I would prefer a football team that was not 4-7, the genuine love we have experienced in our years at Texas A&M is what will live in our hearts in the last stage of our life.
Because, in the end, some things matter—and some things don’t.
Categories: Bottom Line Ethics