Hopping into a car with a couple of high school friends for an impromptu campus visit to the University of Dayton in 1989 turned out to be a life-changing experience for Microsoft executive Ray Blakeney ’93.
Then a senior in high school, Blakeney knew very little about UD beyond its celebrated basketball program.
“Roosevelt Chapman forever haunts my memories,” he quipped.
But he tagged along anyway. “The sun was out, and the campus was full of that beautiful UD energy, with everyone wearing shorts and hanging out in the neighborhood,” he recalled.
That visit inspired Blakeney to become the first in his family to attend college.
“I often think about how different my life would have turned out if not for the opportunity to attend UD,” he said.
Blakeney’s career has encompassed leadership roles at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and at Microsoft in Seattle, where he currently serves as director of global engineering talent acquisition for cloud and artificial intelligence, security and strategic missions. Yet even as his work responsibilities have expanded, his commitment to UD has intensified. He is a past president of the UD Alumni Association and currently serves on UD's board of trustees.
“If you don’t want to serve an institution that has been so important in your life, you are doing it wrong,” he said.
His personal experience has heightened his desire to support the comprehensive fundraising campaign the University launched in April. Blakeney is enthusiastic about the campaign’s goals of increasing alumni participation and volunteer engagement in addition to fundraising for scholarships, faculty innovation and hands-on learning.
“This campaign is deeply personal to me,” he said. “It is an opportunity to energize and reconnect so many of our alumni. And it is critical to our goal of creating opportunity and access for all students.”
Fellow board of trustees member Jennifer Weed ’95 said he made his pitch for the campaign with one simple question: “Dayton always has been there for me. When they ask me to be there for them, how can I say no?”
Weed described Blakeney as “one of the most thoughtful people I know.” She said he brings an invaluable global perspective to the board but also a very caring attitude toward students.
“Ray is always thinking about students who don’t have the same access to education, whether in terms of resources or abilities,” she said. “He is always thinking of the students who need UD the most.”
The son of a Black Army veteran from South Carolina and a Korean-born mother, Blakeney feels a profound pride in both cultures that fuels his drive to make UD as inclusive an environment as possible.
“I am very humbled to serve on the board and to continue to work to make the University better and accessible to all,” he said.
His own life story provides a powerful illustration of that lesson. Blakeney’s parents and grandmother provided emotional support for his college dreams, but he had no idea how to apply to UD or how he would pay the tuition.
“A lot of people took me under their wings and helped me to get the financial aid and the scholarships that I needed as an independent student,” he said.
Blakeney was offered a job as an admission counselor, where he learned invaluable lessons from his managers, Rob Durkle ’78, former associate vice president of enrollment management and Myron Achbach ’58, former admission director.
“What I saw from them was not just how to manage, but how to lead,” he said. “They created a culture in which every person felt as if they belonged.”
“What I saw from them was not just how to manage, but how to lead. They created a culture in which every person felt as if they belonged.”
Never was that compassionate spirit more evident than when Blakeney’s father died suddenly during his junior year. Friends and co-workers from the admission office made the four-hour drive to attend the funeral. When he tried to make the first payment on the emergency loans awarded to him after his father’s death, he was waved away: “It has been repaid,” he was told.
“I will never forget how the University rallied around me,” he recalled. “The terms ‘learn, lead and serve’ are not just words on an admissions brochure; those are the experiences that I had, the lessons that I learned that I want to carry forward.”
Blakeney said lifelong friendships were forged on the day that he moved into Stuart Hall.
“I feel fortunate to have found such a great group of guys to get through life together,” he said.
Six friends from that freshman residence hall have remained in close touch, gathering for reunions — and a basketball game or two — at least once a year.
“People can’t believe I keep in touch with people I met on my first day of college,” said Tony Felts ’93. “I remember the immensity of stepping onto a college campus and trying to figure out where you would find your people. Turned out we were all on the sixth floor of Stuart Hall, and we just hit it off. We were all extroverts to a large degree, and I don’t think any of us ever met a stranger.”
Tim Lewandowski ’93 agreed, “We are more than just friends. We are almost family now, even though we are spread across the country.”
Blakeney remains the same funny, gregarious, generous- hearted soul they knew as an undergraduate, his friends say — the guy who hosted “friendsgiving” dinners before it became a trend.
“He has a really extraordinary gift of connecting with people, regardless of who it is,” Felts said. “He is very genuine and approachable. That’s what drew me to Ray and what continues to keep us together all these years later.”
Added Lewandowski, “Ray was given an opportunity at UD, and he never took it for granted. He wants to give back and to help others to have the same experience. He wants to be successful, but not at the cost of someone else.”
Blakeney and his wife, Erin, have two teenage sons, who are, naturally, huge Flyers fans. A hint or two may have been dropped, but he doesn’t intend to pressure them to attend UD.
“What I hope is for my kids to find a group of friends who are as supportive and caring as mine are,” he said.