The Courage to Pursue Your Calling

Stanford GSB alumnus Phil Knight and Dean Garth Saloner urge 2014 graduates to follow their dreams.

June 16, 2014

As degree candidates and their families at the Stanford Graduate School of Business diploma ceremony tweeted photos of the event, graduation speaker Phil Knight recalled his days as an MBA student there — the days before the internet, cell phones, or even fax machines.

Yet Knight — who earned his MBA in 1962 and proceeded to found one of the most iconic companies of our time, Nike — shared a story that transcended those kinds of particulars; namely his own story after graduating and pursuing his dream of entrepreneurship.

“There is a part of me that was born here,” he observed to the 490 candidates at Frost Amphitheater during the June 14 ceremony. Upon leaving the GSB, “I knew what I wanted to do, if only I could pull it off,” he said. “And that was to bring life to the business plan written in Frank Shallenberger’s entrepreneurship class.”

He exhorted the graduates to similarly find their own calling and, just as important, not go it alone. “Now that you have graduated, the goal should not be to seek a job, or even a career, but to seek a calling. That search has just begun.”

In his own travels, Knight said he occasionally met promising young people who insisted they were not going to ask for help along the way. “Mine was the opposite approach,” he explained. “It is hard enough out there — get all the help you can. Getting help really is just a part of that life long search for wisdom.”

But perhaps one of Knight’s most powerful observations was simply this: “Dare to take chances, lest you leave your talent buried in the ground.”

This is the kind of boldness that Dean Garth Saloner spoke about in his own observations to the graduates. “At the GSB, we have not just encouraged you to dream, but tried to instill in you the courage to pursue those dreams,” he said. “It takes courage to lead and to innovate, in order to bring about real change. Don’t shy away from living a life of meaning and impact, even if that isn’t always the easiest road to walk.”

The road Phil Knight chose to walk was certainly not always easy, as he recounted challenges from the early days of Nike, including a pitched battle with U.S. Customs and getting kicked out of their bank. But in his closing remarks, he evoked the words from Shallenberger’s class, the words that meant so much to him and that he passed on to the 2014 graduates:

“The only time you must not fail is the last time you try.”

Degrees Awarded

The afternoon ceremony honored 393 students who received MBA degrees, 10 PhDs, 83 who earned a Master of Science in Management degree, and 4 Master of Arts in Business Research degrees. Of the students receiving MBA degrees, 12 also earned degrees in education, 7 earned degrees in law, and 18 were awarded earth sciences degrees from the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources.

Glenn Carroll, Laurence W. Lane Professor of Organizations and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, acknowledged the efforts of 80 MBA and 19 MS graduates who also received a Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation. This certificate is awarded to students who complete a course of study focused on using business and management skills to solve social and environmental issues.


Every year, a select group of students are recognized for their academic accomplishments. The highest 10% of the graduating MBA class are designated as Arjay Miller Scholars after Dean Emeritus Arjay Miller; for 2014, 40 students achieved this status. Among the students, one MBA student’s academic achievement places him or her at the top of the class, earning the designation as the Henry Ford II Scholar. Brian Jay Rose earned this designation for 2014.

Peter Dale Varellas received the Ernest C. Arbuckle Award for 2014. The recipient of this award is a second-year MBA nominated and chosen by his or her peers as having contributed most to the fulfillment of the goals of Stanford Graduate School of Business, both within school and society, through their active participation, initiative, leadership, and personal integrity.

Finally, David Seymour Schor was awarded the Alexander A. Robichek Student Achievement Award in Finance, which is granted to the MBA student selected by the finance faculty for achievement in and contribution to finance courses.

Following the awards presentations, the graduates processed from Frost to applause from an audience of thousands assembled to celebrate their achievements.

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