Compassion and empathy are two traits people should strive for in today’s world, Steven Hunter W’91, CMA’95 told Culver students during a special question-and-answer session conducted during the Dr. Martin Luther King Day all-school session on Monday.
Hunter, a partner with the law firm Quarles & Brady, said compassion and empathy are overlooked traits. But people who exhibit a high “emotional quotient” will likely be more successful than those with a high intelligence quotient.
He gave the students an example from his Culver days. One of his friends was successful in everything he did. “But he had a way of bringing everyone else along,” Hunter said. By lifting those around him up, he became more successful. No matter what the task.
Likewise, Culver instructor Candace Koehn always demanded excellence from her students. But she was also the “most welcoming” person he knew. “She was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Hunter said.
When you are compassionate, Hunter said, it leads you to other compassionate people. And reaching out and making “legitimate” friendships with people you don’t have things in common with adds “depth and breadth” to your personal experience.
Hunter said, he worked hard to maintain his academic class rank, but graduated with a military rank of lance corporal. From that experience, he learned that some leadership roles are assigned and others are given.
“You develop your own path to leadership,” he said. Do the best with the role you have been given. He was eventually elected vice president of the senior class.
Coming from the conservative Midwest and the structured environment of Culver during the mid-1990s, Hunter said he was not prepared for all the social changes he faced when he went to Brown University. “I was assuming everyone was coming from the same place I was.”
The diversity of lifestyles and thought took him by surprise. While he considered himself smart, he quickly discovered everyone at Brown was smart. His dorm had gender-inclusive bathrooms, men and women lived on the same floor of the dorm, and some of the counselors were openly gay.
Diversity calls for everyone to have a “richer understanding of all human beings.” Matching hate with hate will not accomplish that. But as Dr. King noted, matching hate with love is how change will occur. “It’s completely counter-intuitive,” Hunter said, but that is how acceptance will be accomplished.
The struggles faced by his mother and her contemporaries taught him about humanity. Even though they were college-educated, they were not encouraged to pursue positions in their field of study. She held a principal license, but she was originally only offered office assistant positions. He learned that “you must introduce others to your humanity.” That we are more alike than we are different.
Professionally, Hunter was named one of 56 professionals named to the list of Notable Minorities in Accounting, Consulting & Law by Crain’s Chicago Business. He handles cases for financial institutions, design professionals, athletes and entertainers. He is currently a partner at Quarles & Brady in Chicago and is the co-chair of the firm’s national diversity committee.