Remarks by Dean Jonathan Levin

Dean Levin speaking at Commencement 2017
Dean Jonathan Levin speaking to the Commencement 2017 audience.

Graduates, Penny Pritzker, honored guests, faculty, staff, families, and friends, welcome to the 2017 Graduation Ceremony at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I would like to begin by recognizing the people around us who have played a pivotal role in the experience of our graduates.

The faculty that sit behind me represent our full tenure-line faculty and lecturers who have led our students on a transformative journey. For those of us on the faculty, the relationships that continue will be a lasting reminder of this graduating class.

Could I ask the faculty to stand for a moment of thanks?

Around the pavilion are staff from the MBA, MSx, and PhD Programs. Their dedication, effort, and passion for students has made the journey not just possible but meaningful and enjoyable.

I ask our staff to stand and be recognized.

For many of you who are graduating, your Stanford GSB education has been a team effort. Your families and friends – whether they have been here throughout the experience, or have made the trip today, or are halfway across the world – have been there to support, to listen, and to advise you. They believe in you and they believe in what this experience means to you.

Let’s take a moment to recognize our families and friends.

Now I would like to say a few words to you, the Stanford GSB graduating class of 2017.

For the past year, or two years, or five years – you have walked every day past the cornerstone of the Stanford GSB campus, which states that we as a school are “dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet, and to the people who are about to dream them up”. You are those dreamers. And we hope that what you have learned here will help you make things happen.

What will it take? Let me suggest three things to carry with you: discovery, intentionality, and community.

First, discovery. Each of you has a pioneering spirit. You chose to come to Stanford, the school of the American frontier, the rocket ship of higher education, the land of possibility. You have been immersed in ideas and opportunities – in conversations with classmates, in discussions with business leaders, in the arguments of faculty members – in an environment of inquiry and discovery.

Let me take just one example. This year’s election brought home to each of us the social, political and economic divisions in this country. How did you respond? One of you organized a student study trip to West Virginia to meet business and community leaders in Appalachia. Two faculty members taught a class on inequality and took a class trip to Stockton to talk with the mayor, a Stanford graduate, about innovative ideas for economic and business development. Another student worked with the school to organize the Moving Forward seminar, bringing to campus speakers with a range of political and social views, setting a model for other schools and universities of how to engage with difference.

Earlier this quarter I heard one of you give a wonderful LowKey Note talk about how to engage peers in challenging conversations. The message was simple: treat each interaction as an opportunity to learn, approach with curiosity. As you go forward, it a great lesson. Take the spirit of discovery that permeates this place, and bring it to others.

Now my second point. Intentionality. One of our privileges here is to learn from remarkable leaders who visit Stanford GSB. I have been reflecting on some great talks we heard recently: from John Fenwick, the Stanford GSB alum who founded Skybox; from Ruth Porat, Stacy Brown-Philpot, Sheryl Sandberg, and Eric Schmidt; from Bengt Holmstrom, another Stanford GSB alum who won the Economics Nobel Prize this year.

What is striking is how often their successes began with serendipity: for John Fenwick, meeting Stanford engineering students who became co-founders; for Bengt Holmstrom, a Stanford GSB class that led to a research career; for Ruth Porat, finding non-obvious mentors at Morgan Stanley. In every case, an open mind allowed chance meetings to become an opportunity.

What is also common is that once an opportunity arose, each of them pursued it with intentionality. And persistence. Today, we are keenly aware of the Mark Zuckerbergs and Evan Spiegels who become spectacularly successful very quickly. Some of you may enjoy that type of success, but it is important to recognize that it is the rare exception. For most people, accomplishing something meaningful takes years or decades. It takes persistence and purpose and intentionality, and I hope you will carry those attributes with you and act on them.

Finally, my third point. Community. When you started, you may have known few, if any, of the people around you. You are leaving with friendships and a community that will be with you always.

A few days ago, one graduate described to me a singular moment when he felt this, a moment of intense connection and love. In true Stanford GSB fashion, it occurred when he was onstage, in the GSB Show, dancing. For others of you, the moments of connection may have happened on a global study trip, in a T-group, or sitting in the sun, in Town Square, with friends.

As alumni, do your part to make our community better. Return the calls of others, come back to reunions, do what you can to help future students who look to you for assistance.

As our graduates, you also will represent Stanford GSB in our broader societal community. You are going forth at a pivotal time. Tolerance and civil discourse are at a low ebb. Take some of the trust and goodwill we have here with you into the world. It is up to you as our graduates to be great innovators and citizens and leaders, to inspire and unify and elevate those around you.

You, the class of 2017, are the first Stanford GSB class I have had the privilege of sending out into the world. I am so proud of what you have accomplished here, and what I know you will accomplish in your careers and lives. Go forth open to discovery. Be ready to act with intention and to persevere when adversity comes. Represent us well in the world.

Congratulations, class of 2017!

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce Penny Pritzker.

Penny is a Stanford GSB graduate who has made extraordinary contributions in business, government, and society.

Penny graduated from Stanford in 1985 with an MBA from Stanford GSB and a JD from Stanford Law School.

When I asked Penny for a favorite memory from Stanford GSB, she told me about an investments class. Her team managed a portfolio; Penny was responsible for real estate. Sadly, they sold the real estate portfolio on a day she was off-campus, resulting in a 2nd place finish. Penny has not forgotten. Nonetheless, she was so enthusiastic at the final presentation that she waved her hand in front of a teammate. Being equally excited, he bit her!

Penny’s conclusion in telling me this was that Stanford GSB taught her a love of teamwork; my conclusion was that she must have been pretty intense!

Whether love of teamwork or intensity or both, it has served her well since Stanford GSB. After graduating, she spent 27 years building, managing, and creating more than 50 companies across a range of industries.

She then was asked to enter government by President Barack Obama and served in his cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Penny played a major role on the President’s team in expanding trade and investment opportunities for American businesses. She led a modernization of the Commerce Department’s business and economic development services.

Penny now serves as Chairman of PSP Capital Partners, a company she founded prior to her government service to develop companies in sectors such as commercial real estate and financial information services.

Penny’s career exemplifies the combination of professional success and contribution to society that we aspire to in our graduates.

It is my pleasure to welcome Penny Pritzker back to Stanford!