North Central College alumnus Ryan Dowd TEDx talk examines opportunity of moral failure

Feb 27, 2015

North Central College alumnus Ryan J. Dowd ’00 delivered a TEDx talk about how individuals can discover their life’s purpose during times of moral failure.

Dowd was the first of 12 presenters Feb. 13 at the inaugural TEDxNorthCentralCollege event. Topics were inspired by the theme “Changing the World for Good.” The message of his talk, titled “The Value of Moral Failure,” was that regrettable moments can help people discover their mission.

“Your finest hour will never help you discover your life’s purpose,” Dowd said. “And the world desperately needs you to discover your purpose.”

Dowd recounted a personal experience from high school when a classmate was being bullied and he could have intervened to help.

“At that moment I was the hero (the classmate) needed,” Dowd said. “Rarely in our lives are we faced with such an obvious case of right vs. wrong, strong vs. weak, good vs. evil. Rarely do we have an opportunity to make such a difference in someone’s life with so little effort … But I turned and I walked away.”

Dowd said that moment of moral failure haunted him for years, but eventually led him to discover his life’s purpose.

“By the standard of my own ethical code I had committed an act of complete and total moral cowardice,” he said. “That realization … showed me who I am by showing me who I never want to be again.”

Dowd has worked as an advocate for immigrants in the United States, traveled extensively throughout Africa performing human rights work, and counseled rape victims and others. He worked for 14 years at Hesed House in Aurora, Ill., most of those years as executive director, and is now executive director of Ayuda, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides holistic social, legal and language services to immigrants.

“I discovered my purpose was to stand with people in their darkest, worst, scariest moments,” Dowd said. “I discovered my purpose in the moment I failed it, and I’ve tried to remember that ever since.”

Dowd graduated from North Central College in 2000 with a bachelor of arts in religious studies. He says while a student at North Central College he learned the world needs saving.

“The greatest contribution you can make to the world is that contribution that is uniquely yours,” he said. “The world needs heroes. You are the only possible hero in your story. Become the person the world needs you to be.”

Dowd also holds a master’s degree in public administration and a law degree, both from Northern Illinois University.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers topics ranging from science to business to global issues. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.