Remarks from the Dean: Jonathan Levin

Read the dean’s remarks given to the MSx Class of 2021 on Friday, December 10, 2021 by Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin.

Graduates, guests, faculty, and staff, welcome to the 2021 MSx Graduation Ceremony at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Eleven months ago, you arrived here at the GSB and I welcomed your class over Zoom. I am so thrilled that we are here, together in CEMEX. The pandemic is not over, but we have definitely come a long way in the past year.

As we begin, I’d like to recognize our guests — the families and friends who have provided support, and made the effort to be here today. [applause]

A graduation ceremony is about celebrating what you have achieved and what you will go on and do. But first, I’d like to spend a few minutes looking back.

Let’s think back to the fall of 2019. You were all leading your lives — very successful lives, by all counts.

You were spread out over the globe, in more than 20 countries. You were working in different industries — finance, health care, tech, education, government. Many of you already had advanced degrees. Many of you had kids and spouses. You had started organizations and were leading teams.

And yet. You wanted something more. You wanted to think about your career, your life, and how you might take it to the next level, or in a new direction entirely. You were dreaming bigger. And that led you to the GSB.

The pandemic, though, had other plans for all of us.

The GSB, and the world, began to shelter-in-place and move online, and the path here became less straightforward.

We made the difficult decision to postpone the start date of your program. And you had many factors to consider: your job, your family, international visas, housing, expiring GMAT scores. Not to mention how to maintain your physical and mental health in one of the most challenging periods most of us have lived through.

And you had to answer a basic question: does it make sense to put everything on hold and pursue a one-year master’s program in business in the midst of a global pandemic? By virtue of the fact that you’re sitting here today, the answer was “yes.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

You took that step. You didn’t know how the program was going to go, or when we would be able to resume in-person learning, or whether you would be better off staying where you were. You took the step and kept moving forward. That says a lot about you, individually and collectively.

Over the last year, you moved from interacting with each other over Zoom to sharing classrooms with your cohort, to the super summer, and now the fall quarter. You came together as a class, planning virtual kids events, holding “MSx Moments” conversations with professors and other speakers at EVGR, even driving a pickup truck to help classmates move.

You took Paths to Power together with Jeff Pfeffer. David Kreps pushed your knowledge of microeconomics. Jennifer Aaker enlightened you about the relationship between business and humor. You refined your self-awareness and leadership skills in classes like Interpersonal Dynamics and Managing Growing Enterprises. You earned the admiration of our faculty; some of our super summer faculty are now advocating for MSx-only classes.

You’ve taken the time to think about whether you want to pivot, maybe to do a start-up with someone you’ve met here. Or maybe you’ve realized that you want to return to your industry, but with a new perspective. The magic of being at Stanford is being exposed to a breadth of people, of ideas, of skills, of approaches to management and leadership.

One thing is certain: there will be many opportunities for each of you in the years to come. And I hope that you will remember this year both for the opportunities it created, and the chance you had to reset and reflect on your own aspirations. I hope you will pursue the next phase of your career and life in ways that are filled with meaning and contribute to the greater good.

You are graduating at a time of enormous change: an acceleration of digital technology, a rethinking of work, the opportunity to build and reshape organizations, a recognition that business can help solve the biggest challenges of our time. It is exactly a moment when your Stanford education will be most valuable.

And, more than other classes, you’ve learned how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, and to be adaptable and resilient, powerful lessons for your career and life.

Congratulations. I wish you all the best.