'Making a Difference: Give a Blue Ribbon'
By: Archie Wortham, PhD

Good evening…Dr. Reno, platform guests, PTK members, ladies and gentleman.

Before I start, I want you to know you can blame Mr. James Miller for the torture you are about to endure as he asked me to do this…again I might add. I have no idea why he asked me or why I accepted. I’m sure he could have found someone who knew more, spoke better, or was better looking. Well, 2 out of 3 maybe. Just so you know I’m being honest, let me read the email I got after I’d accepted. It read, and I quote, “I forgot to ask, going through this second round would you mind shortening your contribution to about 10 minutes? The reason is because we now have officers that will want to fill some of the voids...”

Now James didn’t mention the voids part to me, until after I’d said yes. He knows giving me a time limit is something I’d respect. But believe me; something happens when people get the chance to speak their mind and I’ve been known to give so many pieces of my mind to people, people are beginning to wonder if I have any left. Besides…there are "voids" to fill.

Jesting aside, I’m honored to be here again. Happy our chapter is working hard, has officers, and maybe next time one of them will be your keynote speaker. This is due to a lot of hard work that Mr. Miller and Mrs. Soriano have done, and they are worthy of your thanks.

Tonight I’ll do three things: I’ll address one of the more powerful influences in our world today: the Democratization of Information. I’ll talk about its Power; its Peril and its Promise. I’ll also address how it can help you make a difference, and lastly end with a brief story.


A couple of weeks ago, one of our college’s Vice Presidents and I talked about how some students were more successful than others; how some people with the same resources could build a life so different from the person they sat next to at school. Where did they get that power? From within, knowing that within them they had the ability to choose certain paths as they hunted for information; sought advice. They had the same opportunities as their peers but realized the power in information. You have to work to get it. Those that excel, those that achieve, those that are able to drive fancy cars, live in fancy houses have found a way to get information and that information gave them power. Power!

Now with power, comes peril. We live in perilous times today. Unemployment is high. Natural disasters have happened in Haiti and New Orleans: People drive Toyotas. Nothing in life is free. The more you excel, the more is expected. You make more money, you pay more taxes. You drive a fancy car, you pay more for gas. You live in a fancy house? You understand what I mean. You feel me? With power comes prosperity and with prosperity comes responsibility. ‘It is what it is. You may look at it as perilous, but look upon it as opportunity. Look at it as a choice to do something better with your life; make your neighborhood better; make your class better; make your life better. It’s scary. Once you get your dream, the question becomes ‘what are you going to do with it?’ Hide it? No! You fulfill a promise. You share that promise. You do what I tell my students. You go out and enlighten the world. You make a difference. Marianne Williamson in her book on miracles tells us: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” Don’t forget that! It’s perilous not to fulfill your promise!

To fulfill your promise, get a plan to keep that promise? Nelson Mandela tells us that “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” I like to teach. As I teach, my students get to know me. They know I have a PhD; like to look like Henry VIII. I also tell them about my fallings. I didn’t always get the job I applied to get. I flunked my qualifying exams. But I didn’t stop. I have the job of a lifetime right now…teaching something I love to teach. I love to talk, to “fill the voids.” I got my PhD, a dream I had, a promise I made. I got it, because I didn’t quit. I saw a mountain I wanted to climb. I made a plan and I climbed it. Do you have a plan?

In ‘Murder on the Pier,’ a murder mystery, Jon Rose, the main character, talks about mountaintop experiences. Plan one. Jon Rose tells an audience like you to “remember how you got to the mountaintop. Enjoy the past…plan for the future,” he tells the group that “Some people reach the mountaintop and before they know it, they start looking for another climber instead of the one they started the climb with...Enjoy the view with the person who helped you get there.” Keep your promises especially to the people who helped you get powerful and escape peril.

Power, Peril, Promise. Now the story about making a difference; it was an email sent to me by a former student:

"A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, 'Who I Am Makes a Difference.'

"Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.

"One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, 'We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like you to go out find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened.'

"Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius.

"The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, 'Well, sure.' The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart.

"As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, 'Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else? The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people.'

"That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, 'The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I'm a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says: Who I Am Makes a Difference, on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor.' As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when i come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!

"The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, 'Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I had killed myself and asking you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn't think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don't think I need it after all.'

"His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The envelope was addressed, "Mom and Dad." The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive helped several other young people with career planning and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his being the boss's son.

"And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are DOES make difference."

So there it is. Jim, I hope I filled the “voids.” Or as one of my students told me…I hope I helped each of you understand, ”I’m in it, to win it.” WORD! And each of you should be: “in it to win it” too! Remember, the power, the peril, and the promise that comes with information. Information liberates as it allows you to help the world become better. As Gandhi tells us “You are the change you want to see in the world.” Make a difference.

Note: This speech was delivered on the 25th of March, at Northeast Lakeview College, Universal City, Texas. Any use of this without the consent of the author is prohibited. You may view the speech at: