Read Dean Jonathan Levin’s remarks to the returning MBA and MSx Class of 2020 at their graduation ceremony.
Graduates, honored guests, faculty, staff, families and friends, welcome to the long-awaited Class of 2020 Graduation Ceremony at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Two years ago, as you prepared for graduation, we went online and canceled all in-person events. Similar decisions were made around the world. Right around that time, Queen Elizabeth spoke to the British people.
Her theme, as we confronted the growing pandemic, was perseverance. She said: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different…. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
Today, Class of 2020, we meet again. I am thrilled that almost 400 of you are here to celebrate. Let’s hear it for your perseverance — GSB Class of 2020!
I would like to take a moment to recognize some of the people here today.
GSB faculty and staff played a pivotal role in the experience of the Class of 2020. Could I ask GSB faculty and staff to stand for a moment of thanks?
We also are joined by families and friends who have traveled to celebrate this important occasion. Let’s take a moment to recognize our families and friends.
A typical graduation is a moment of transition. We close the door on the experience of being a student, and open a new one as graduates launch into the world. Precisely because graduates are so close to being students, it is hard to fully appreciate what has been learned and what the experience has meant.
Today’s ceremony is different. Rather than a transition, let’s conceive this as a moment of inflection. It’s an opportunity to look back on being a GSB student, and how that experience has shaped your trajectory, and also to look out toward the future.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote that life is understood backwards, and lived forwards.
Class of 2020, you are in a unique position to appreciate what Kierkegaard meant. As you sit here at graduation, you have the benefit of two years to look back, and consider what part of being a student opened your mind, or changed you, or influenced your choices.
I expect that many specifics have faded. A haze has settled on the details of accrual accounting, and simulation modeling, or how much you paid for the furniture in your pass-down house.
Instead, moments of serendipity take on larger meaning — an illuminating comment in class, a memorable speaker, a conversation that ignited a friendship.
I also hope that as a result of your GSB experience, you think more clearly about decision-making, strategy, and organizations. I hope you’ve built on the foundation of leadership skills you developed. I hope the relationships you formed have become stronger. And I hope returning this weekend provides an opportunity to reflect on this.
When Kierkegaard wrote that life must be lived forward, he meant that not everything could be anticipated, or planned, or understood in advance. Sometimes you have to make it up.
You learned that lesson in your final quarter at the GSB.
You started nonprofits to source medical supplies. You organized dozens of virtual events to maintain a sense of community. You worked to address racial inequality. You were generative. In the face of bad news and uncertainty, you figured out how to create, how to build, even how to contagiously spread positivity. We’ve watched you carry that into your careers.
If today’s graduation is an inflection point, we should recognize that we are also at an inflection point for the world. We are gradually emerging from two years of pandemic. The world has changed and we face urgent challenges.
In my final message to you in June of 2020, I quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in the Great Depression told a graduating class: “Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.”
That still resonates with me.
As you renew your Stanford ties today, and relaunch, remember that each of you has the capacity not just to make your way. Rise high. Build in the way that raises others. Set yourselves the task of making a better world around you.
Welcome back to Stanford and congratulations.