“Chase Your Dream,” Skoll Advises Class of 2010

Jeffrey Skoll (MBA ’95), the first president of eBay, urges Stanford GSB graduates to define their dreams and chase them with rigor and authenticity.

June 13, 2010

“Define your dream and chase it with as much rigor and authenticity as you can muster,” entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeff Skoll advised Stanford Graduate School of Business 2010 graduates.

“Arguably, most all of you are already successful according to conventional definitions,” said Skoll, MBA ‘95, who became the first president of eBay and has gone on to create Participant Media, a firm whose films carrying social messages have won four academy awards. “But while you’re thinking about making money, make sure you’re also thinking about making meaning. Money without meaning can be an unfulfilling life.”

Moments before introducing Skoll to the audience filling Frost Amphitheater on the blazing hot afternoon of June 12, Dean Garth Saloner had given some of the same advice: “Our alumni care not just about themselves and their families, but about their fellow man and woman. And because they are GSB alumni they are action-oriented and do something about it.”

The ceremony honored 351 students who received MBA degrees, 14 PhDs, 54 who earned the Sloan Master of Science Degree, and 3 Master of Arts in Business Research Degrees. Of the students receiving the MBA degrees, 17 also earned masters degrees in education, 3 earned law degrees and 6 were awarded additional masters degrees in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources.

Jason LeeKeenan, a Harvard undergrad who grew up in Boston, was named the Henry Ford II Scholar as the top academic student in the class. Dean Emeritus Arjay Miller congratulated the 35 students named Arjay Miller Scholars, meaning that they ranked in the top 10% of the class academically.

Sameer Narang, a Harvard undergrad from Saratoga, Ca., was selected by Stanford GSB faculty to receive the Alexander A. Robichek Student Achievement Award in Finance.

In addition to their MBA or Sloan degrees, 90 students also earned certificates in public management recognizing that they had taken a specific set of courses. And for the last time, certificates in Global Management were presented to 65 MBA and Sloan students. The Global Management Certificates, created 15 years ago, are being discontinued because the increasing emphasis on international issues in the school’s curriculum gives all MBA students access to topics emphasized by the certificate.

Although the ceremony had the usual high spirited feel with families waving and cheering and grads carrying their babies and young children as they received their diplomas, there were three empty chairs among the rows of black robed graduates seated at the front. The dean called for a moment of silence to remember three members of the class who died during their time as students.

Viet Nguyen and Micah Springer were killed in a traffic accident in 2008 shortly after enrolling as MBA students and Roanak Desai, a third member of the class, died in April after a brief illness.

Desai was honored by his classmates with the Arbuckle Award, presented to recognize initiative, leadership, and personal integrity of one of their MBA classmates. This year three other students who were finalists for the award asked that their names be taken out of contention and that the award be presented to Desai. His sister, Paayal Desai, accepted the award on Desai’s behalf.

Skoll recalled that when as a teenager his father was diagnosed with cancer. “He said he wasn’t so much afraid that he might die, but that he hadn’t done the things that he wanted to with his life. Fortunately, my father is still alive today, but for me that was a wake-up call and it set me on a mission.”

Skoll described how his early goal was to become a writer and “tell stories that would change the world.” When he earned his MBA in ’95, his friend Pierre Omidyar approached Skoll with the idea to start eBay. “I said ‘Pierre, what a stupid idea,’” Skoll recalled. “Luckily, I soon realized that Pierre was onto something.”

“For me, being part of the creation of eBay was a fantastic experience and gave me the resources to live my dream on a scale I had never imagined. But, throughout, I knew that telling stories that made a difference was what I most wanted to do.”

He has created the philanthropic Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Urgent Threats Fund to focus on problems such as climate change, water scarcity, nuclear proliferation, the middle-east conflict, and pandemics.

Dean Garth Saloner also urged the graduates to have an impact on the world.

“I hope that you, like those who have preceded you, will continue to learn about the world around you and that where you see inequalities, that you will step in and do something about it, perhaps even drawing other GSB alumni into the fray,” said Saloner. “In summary, please indulge me just one last time when I say I hope you will lead a life of impact and meaning, and that you will ‘change lives, changes organizations, change the world.’”

By Cathy Castillo

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