BOSTON—Harvard Business School held its Class Day celebration this afternoon on the lawn in front of Baker Library/Bloomberg Center before an appreciative audience of some 900 graduating MBA students and their families, friends, and special guests.
The program, chaired by Karen Rhorer (MBA 2014), included keynote addresses by Casey Gerald (MBA 2014) and HBS alumnus Salman (Sal) Khan (MBA 2003), founder and executive director of Khan Academy, as well as the presentation of faculty awards for excellence in teaching.
MBA Class of 2014 co-presidents Sarah Arora and Jordan Strebek also spoke, noting that being a leader is not always about the headlines or having a larger than life personality. “What this community taught us is that leadership is found more often in the small and actionable things people do with good hearts and an intention to serve others,” they said. “The most impactful leaders serve others wholeheartedly, often quietly, without pretense, pride or any hope of recognition.”
Gerald spoke movingly about a near-death experience with armed gunmen in his hometown of Dallas, and how that changed his life forever. “A strange thing happened as I accepted that I was about to die: I stopped being afraid.” He then decided to “give my life to a cause greater than myself.”
After arriving at Harvard Business School from Yale, Gerald said that HBS “changed who we were; it reminded us who we could be. It reminded us that we didn’t have to wait until we were rich or powerful, or until we actually knew finance, to make a difference. We could act right now.”
And act he did by founding a non-profit, MBAs Across America, which is a movement of MBAs and entrepreneurs working together to revitalize America. “We saw the signs for hope in entrepreneurs who were on the front lines of change. They showed us that the new ‘bottom line’ in business is the impact you have on your community and the world around you — that no amount of profit could make up for purpose.”
Last summer, Gerald set out on an 8,000-mile journey across the country with three other classmates to talk to people in “nooks and crannies, and the unbeaten paths,” to discover the interconnectedness of people’s lives, dreams, and aspirations. He exhorted his classmates to act out of similar creativity and compassion and represent a new generation of MBAs in which “each of us becomes a pioneer,” committing our time and talent not just to the treasure of today, but to the frontier of tomorrow, “where business is a powerful tool for change.”
Sal Khan has always dreamed big. The mission of his organization is to provide “a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Khan Academy now reaches 10 million students per month in 200 countries. Founded in 2008, it provides 5,500 instructional videos and 100,000 practice problems for an array of subjects that includes math, biology, physics, chemistry, economics, finance, American civics, art history, and more. All this springs from much humbler beginnings. Khan began tutoring his cousin in math remotely in 2004 and then went on to make YouTube videos in 2006. The success of these endeavors led to his receiving a $2 million grant from Google and a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2010 to fuel his big dream.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Khan graduated from MIT in 1998 with three degrees -- two BS degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering/computer science and a master’s in electrical engineering. He began his career working in technology and later earned his MBA at HBS.
In his Class Day address, Khan celebrated the immense diversity in the HBS classroom -- Navy Seals, Olympic athletes, founders of significant organizations, speakers of five languages, brain surgeons, Taiwanese pop stars, to name a few. He went to describe the magic of the case method of instruction and how the faculty“were not lecturers, but dynamic well-dressed facilitators of conversations.” Over the course of just the first year, he explained, the case method of instruction takes “90 complete strangers, from all over the planet, from nearly every industry, race and religion, and turns them into a family. You learn to complete each other’s thoughts,” he said.
Khan quickly learned the value of the HBS community. “HBS is a transformative experience because of your fellow classmates. You are as good as the people you surround yourself with, and you probably will never be immersed with so many people who’ll push you to be better.”
Urging students to contemplate this time of inflection in our civilization, Khan shared thoughts on his passion ─ education. He said that we shouldn’t limit ourselves in any way, given the advances that technology has made in recent years. However, beyond the tools at hand, he encouraged thinking on a larger scale in order to “push whole areas of our society forward. Incremental progress is important, but don’t shy away from dreaming of great leaps and then using your skills and influence to make them happen.”
Regardless of where the members of the MBA Class of 2014 find themselves after graduation, be it in technology, media, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, or government, Khan offered some final words of advice. "When you surrender yourself to an idea or principle bigger than yourself ─ regardless of the field ─ your soul will feel nourished and the universe will work in your favor,” he concluded.
The four faculty teaching awards (two for the first-year required curriculum and two for the second-year elective curriculum) were determined by a vote of the MBA Class of 2014. They recognize the recipients’ ability to “make magic” in the classroom and their impact on the student body. This year’s honorees were Assistant Professor Catherine S. M. Duggan and Professor J. Gunnar Trumbull, both of whom teach the required macroeconomics course Business, Government and the International Economy. Elective curriculum recognition went to Professor David A. Moss, who teaches the course Creating the Modern Financial System, Senior Lecturer Nori Gerardo Lietz, who teaches finance.
Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 80 open enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who have shaped the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.