Optimism Is the Theme at Stanford GSB Commencement

Business leader Henry Fernandez lauds the power of “unshakable belief in the future.”

June 21, 2023

| by GSB Staff
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GSB students in procession at graduation in June 2023. Credit: Best Grads

Friends and family lined the procession route at Frost Amphitheater. | Best Grads

A sunny summer Saturday at leafy Frost Amphitheater seemed like an appropriate setting for a commencement speech that celebrated “the miracle of optimism” and resilience in the face of daunting problems.

Graduation ceremonies for the Stanford Graduate School of Business Class of 2023 on June 17 featured remarks by Henry A. Fernandez, MBA ’83, chairman and CEO of global finance firm MSCI. His address offered an upbeat ending for an academic year marked by war, political tumult, and economic worries. Fernandez noted that when he graduated from the GSB, America’s unemployment rate was more than 10%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was below 1250, about 4% of its current level. “My point here is not to diminish our current problems, but rather to put them in a longer-term perspective,” Fernandez said. “Taking a longer view allows us to observe a wider arc of human progress, and the tremendous opportunities that progress brings.”

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Henry Fernandez speaking to the GSB Class of 2023. Credit: Best Grads

Commencement speaker Henry A. Fernandez encouraged graduates to embrace the “grunt work.” | Best Grads

Fernandez’s personal story added weight to his emphasis on the positive: he immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua at age 16 knowing not a word of English, attended Georgetown University and Stanford GSB, failed in his first three business enterprises, and finally found success at MSCI. Under his leadership, the company has grown to a market capitalization of close to $40 billion. He has twice been named to Barron’s list of the world’s best CEOs.

All his career moves were risky, Fernandez noted, but he recognized early on that successful people “have an unshakable belief in the future, and an unwavering confidence that they will find a path forward.”

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Taking a longer view allows us to observe a wider arc of human progress.
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Henry A. Fernandez

“You would not be here today unless you had a strong internal drive to succeed,” he added. “As you continue on your path, you should expect to do plenty of grunt work, no matter what your job is or what your title is. Indeed, grunt work is the foundation of all successful businesses. It is what teaches us the discipline of execution. Without it, even the most brilliant strategy is nothing more than words on a page.

“To paraphrase the great American humorist P.J. O’Rourke: Everybody wants to save the world. Nobody wants to help do the dishes. If you want to change lives, change organizations, and change the world, you need to do the dishes. Every day.

“You have a responsibility to the privilege bestowed upon you. Use it to change the world and live a purposeful life. And yes: Amid everything else, please remember to do the dishes.”

In his remarks to the class prior to Fernandez’s speech, Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin offered perspectives on what it means to live a good life. He invoked the work of University of Chicago psychology professor Shigehiro Oishi, who emphasizes the importance of new experiences, in addition to cultivating happiness and a sense of purpose.

“I would argue that the GSB has prepared you for all three dimensions of a good life,” Levin said. “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’m excited to watch your lives unfold in each of these ways.”

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A small group of GSB Students celebrating after the graduation ceremony. Credit: Best Grads

Stanford GSB graduates celebrate their big day. | Best Grads

The diploma ceremony for the Class of 2023 featured 513 graduates who earned degrees:

  • 411 MBA
  • 81 Master of Science (MSx)
  • 20 PhD
  • 1 Master of Arts in Business Research

Forty-two MBA students earned joint degrees:

  • 1 MS in Computer Science
  • 17 MS in Environment and Resources
  • 13 MS in Education
  • 6 JD (Law)
  • 2 MS in Public Policy

Certificate and Award Recipients

  • Certificates in Public Management and Social Innovation were awarded to 137 graduates.
  • Forty-one MBA graduates were named Arjay Miller Scholars, recognized as the top 10% academically in the class.
  • The Henry Ford II Scholar, selected for academic achievement, was earned by Elizabeth Rosenblatt.
  • Keya Patel was recognized as this year’s Ernest C. Arbuckle Award winner, chosen by her peers for having contributed most to the fulfillment of the goals of the school.
  • The Alexander A. Robichek Award in Finance went to Joshua Russell Rowley.
  • The recipient of the George G.C. Parker Prize for academic achievement in the MSx class was Michael Burnett.
  • Eight students were named Robert L. Joss Scholars, recognizing the academically highest 10% of the graduating MSx class.

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