Juan Romero

The fall 2017 Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Speaker Series kicked off on Sept. 28 with Juan Romero, a decorated U.S. military retiree, who discussed Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative principles of integrity, optimism and finding one’s purpose with members of the DU community.

“When nobody’s looking, what are you doing? Are you doing the right thing? Are you doing it with integrity?” These were some of the thought-provoking questions Romero, a recently retired U.S. army special operations master sergeant and mission leader, posed to an audience of more than 130 University of Denver students, staff and faculty in Margery Reed Hall’s Reiman Theater.

Corey Ciocchetti, associate professor of business ethics and legal studies, kicked off the evening by thanking the Daniels Fund—the sponsor of the speaker series—and welcoming everyone to the event, which is part of the inaugural Daniels Ethics Fellows course that is open to all DU students. Ciocchetti then introduced moderator Scott Southworth, the founder and CEO of Phalanx Industries, and a close friend of Romero.

Southworth highlighted Romero’s impressive list of accolades, as well as his strong moral compass. Before bringing Romero to the stage, Southworth addressed the crowd by saying, “It’s easier to do the right thing when life is good, but it’s more difficult to do it when life gets hard. Can you do the right thing when the heat’s on?”

During the hour-long session, Southworth posed similar questions to Romero, who answered with anecdotes from his youth, his time at war in Iraq, his 20-year career in the military and his current role in personnel recovery. Romero spoke about his upbringing in Compton, California, which included a near 10-month span of homelessness, noting that although he doesn’t believe he had a rough childhood, it did force him to mature quickly. He was an observant kid who learned early on that he needed to rely on himself if he wanted to get where he was going. He explained to the audience, “Nobody’s going to do it for you, you have to do it for yourself.”

Romero, who cited creativity, integrity and self-motivation as some of the most important qualities of success, shared a number of other stories from his extensive military career, including a chilling incident in Iraq when he and his fellow military members unknowingly slept in a mass grave. Although this story drew gasps from the audience and served as a sobering reminder of the gruesome realities of war, Romero highlighted the good he encountered as well. Whether it was the Iraqi woman who tried to warn the troops about danger in the village, or the family of Romero’s then-girlfriend—now his wife—who took him in when he was homeless in Compton.

Romero ended the evening with advice for members of the audience, particularly the students. Not only did he encourage them to live a life of integrity, he also emphasized the need to find and pursue a passion. Just as he found passion and purpose while serving his country in the military, Romero challenged the students to find their own personal calling. He asked, “Why are you here? What is your purpose?” He reminded them to be authentic and true to themselves—not a lemming, living their parents’ (or anyone else’s) dream. “Whatever it is that you are seeking to do, it better be because you want to do it.”

The fall 2017 Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Speaker Series consists of five events with six noteworthy speakers who will share their experiences and advice on primary ethical principles such as accountability, integrity, trust and viability. These events are open to all members of the DU community and are scheduled bi-weekly until the culminating event, a screening of “All the Queen’s Horses,” the 2017 documentary that examines the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history, on Nov. 16. RSVP here for the next event, “Ethics and Leadership at Twice the Speed of Sound,” featuring Captain Mike Byron, a 1976 graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy, on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 6-7 p.m., in Margery Reed Hall’s Reiman Theater. Seats are filling up fast, so RSVP today! For more information about the speaker series, contact Nikol Harder at Nikol.Harder@du.edu.