Find your Fox. Be a Fox.
But Matthew Perry didn’t have wildlife management majors in mind when he advised his fellow College of Science graduates as student speaker at a recent spring commencement ceremony at Eastern Kentucky University.
Perry, who just 24 hours earlier had been commissioned as an armor officer in the U.S. Army, was referencing Gen. Fox Conner, who served in the U.S. Army during the early 20th century. Yet, he acknowledged, “the man who made (General and President Dwight) Eisenhower” and mentored an entire generation of officers who would go on to lead the Army into battle, is hardly a household name.
“He was a tactical genius and was known for his immense wisdom,” Perry noted. “However, there’s a good chance you have never heard of him. Why is this? It’s because Fox Conner refused to publish a memoir about his service. He would not agree to any interviews with newspapers or journalists. And upon his death, he ordered all of his journals and personal writings be destroyed.”
Many scholars, Perry added, believe Gen. Conner took those actions because he didn’t want future generations to lean on him and his writings for their own decision-making. “He wanted every leader to find a mentor from their own lives they could look up to. He wanted everyone to ‘find their Fox.’ So, I have a question for everyone in attendance. Who is your Fox? (Who is) someone you can look up to and learn from?”
Perry, who graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA and bachelor’s degrees in geography and criminal justice, knows a little bit himself about leadership. This past semester, he served as cadet battalion commander in EKU’s storied Army ROTC program. He left for Fort Benning, Georgia, a week after commencement. “ROTC has given me the opportunity to do some amazing things. In February, I had the honor of attending the George C. Marshall Conference at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The theme of the conference was in big letters on the screen the first day: ‘Find Your Fox.’
“Now there are two things that people misunderstand about finding their ‘Fox,’” Perry told his classmates. “One: they mistakenly believe they can only have one ‘Fox.’ I have more ‘Foxes’ in my life than an EKU student has parking tickets. The other mistake is to assume that your Fox must be a superior. You can learn from anyone regardless of who they are. My father taught me the difference between right and wrong and inspired me to follow in his footsteps and become an Army officer. My cadre here at EKU mentored me on how to take a young freshman and teach him how to be a leader. My professors helped me to fulfill my love of knowledge and get me to this stage today. But I’ve also learned from those around me.”
While in the deserts of Mongolia, Perry recounted, he met nomads who had almost nothing but possessed a “stronger familial bond (more) than anyone I’ve ever met. Just a few weeks ago, I saw several young men and women find the strength to complete a full marathon while wearing a 40-pound pack. These people have taught me more about leadership than any memoir or journal ever could. It is these people who are my ‘Foxes.’”
He concluded his commencement remarks by reminding his listeners that it is equally important to be a mentor to others. “When I first joined the ROTC program as a freshman, there was only one person whose success I cared about, and that was me,” Perry said. “Everything I did was to further my own goals. There are many in this world who share that mindset. But I would argue that anyone with this mindset is not a leader.”
While serving as battalion commander, Perry, a 2015 graduate of Shelby County High School, said he came to realize that the success of the cadets under his charge “meant more to me than any accolade I could ever achieve. Anyone who cares only about themselves isn’t going to be a ‘Fox’ to others.”