Dean’s Remarks to the Graduating Class of 2023

At this year’s graduation ceremony, Dean Jon Levin offers perspectives on what it means to live a good life.

June 17, 2023

My remarks today are about what it means to live a good life.

A modest topic.

I want to start, however, with your experience at the GSB.

When you arrived, we told you that Stanford would widen your aperture. You would meet new people, encounter new ideas, and have new experiences.

You made that happen.

You tackled finance and accounting, some of you for the first time. You were asked to think hard about leadership, and shareholder capitalism.

“I would argue that the GSB has prepared you for all three dimensions of a good life.”

Some of you did original research. A large number of you wore ridiculous costumes and flew to Las Vegas for 24 hours, but we won’t dwell on that.

We provided all of you with a new experience this winter when we told you that you couldn’t use your electronic devices during class.

This spring, some of you danced in front of a thousand people in Fox Theater, and apparently some very funny things happened at the GSB but sadly I couldn’t follow any of the jokes.

A few weeks ago, many of us gathered in Bing concert hall for a performance of classical music and dance that highlighted surprising and extraordinary student talents.

Most importantly, every day you came together with your classmates from around the world, and pushed yourselves to expand your thinking and try new things. One of my great wishes for you is to keep doing just that.

Earlier this year, I saw my colleague Brian Lowery with a paper, and I asked what he was reading. The paper was by a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, named Shigehiro Oishi.

Oishi studies what it means to live a good life. He’s not the first to do that, of course — Socrates and Aristotle got there long ago — but Oishi actually has a substantively new idea.

There are two classic conceptions of the good life, that have been much studied and debated in psychology and philosophy.

The first is happiness: the idea that we are fulfilled through friendships and experiences that bring joy and pleasure.

The second is meaning, namely that we should seek to have a purpose and commit ourselves to that purpose. Aristotle called this a life of virtue.

Oishi starts with the observation that when people reflect back late in life, what they regret is usually not the things they’ve done or failed at, but the things they haven’t done.

Oishi argues that this tells us something about what it means to live a good life. Living a good life means that we keep seeking new experiences, and keep finding new perspectives or ways to think about the world.

These experiences needn’t bring us happiness or even purpose; it is a third and distinct concept. Oishi calls this the psychologically rich life.

This is exactly what you have been practicing throughout your experience at Stanford.

In fact, I would argue that the GSB has prepared you for all three dimensions of a good life.

You have made friendships that will last decades, and be the source of great happiness and fulfillment.

You have gained the skills and aspiration to pursue a life of purpose and meaning.

And you have set a foundation to continue to broaden your perspective, to take risks, to seek new experiences, to live a psychologically rich life.

I am excited to watch your lives unfold in each of these ways.

Now I want to close with a quote from the GSB campus.

If you cross the middle of our campus, you will come upon a set of footprints in the pavement of Town Square. They are the footprints of Phil Knight, who sat in your seat at a GSB graduation some 60 years ago before going on to found Nike.

Next to the footprints is a quote from Phil. It says:

“There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s a moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun.”

Stanford GSB Class of 2023, I wish you happiness, meaning, and continued adventure — a good life. Congratulations!

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