BOSTON—The Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2012 held its Class Day exercises yesterday afternoon on the great lawn in front of the Baker Library I Bloomberg Center for the 876 members of the Class, their families, and friends.
Presided over by Class presidents Funa Maduka and Jonathan Dick, along with Class Day committee members Luke Marklin, Tehmina Haida, and Katharine Hill, the program featured the presentation of four faculty awards for excellence in teaching, a student speaker, and an address by Sheryl Sandberg, a member of the Harvard MBA Class of 1995 and now chief operating officer of Facebook.
One student not in attendance was in the thoughts and prayers of everyone at the event. Tragically, Nathan (Nate) Bihlmaier died earlier in the week. To help honor him, Professor Youngme Moon, Senior Associate Dean and faculty chair of the MBA Program, read the essay Bihlmaier had written several years ago as part of his application to the School. Inspired by a phrase immortalized by legendary architect Daniel Burnham, "Make no little plans," Bihlmaier wrote, in part: "I established a belief...that the path to success is only realized by accepting the responsibility to lead, by utilizing an unyielding initiative to achieve, and by daring to take on any challenge that arises with reckless abandon." Members of Bihlmaier's family will accept his diploma from Dean Nitin Nohria at Commencement exercises this afternoon.
Determined by a vote of members of the Class, teaching awards for the first-year required curriculum went to Professors Rawi Abdelal (Business, Government & the International Economy) and Benjamin Esty (Finance). Honorees for their teaching excellence in the second-year elective curriculum were Associate Professor Tom Nicholas (The Coming of Managerial Capitalism) and Professor Jan Rivkin (Advanced Competitive Strategy).
Student speaker and cancer survivor Andrew Sternlight, who is also a candidate for the JD degree at Yale Law School, recounted the impact of the disease on his life. After months of chemotherapy, he realized the overarching importance of family, community, and purpose. Sternlight said that the time he spent with his family was precious, that they gave him a sense of hope. "At HBS," he continued, "we have been part of something larger than ourselves. We share our common humanity." As for purpose, Sternlight explained that in the midst of his recovery, he realized he needed to discover "a deeper sense of self." His MBA education, he explained, gave him the opportunity to "dream big" and, in keeping with the School's mission, make a difference in the world. He urged his classmates to do the same – "to figure out your purpose and pursue it with everything you've got."
Sandberg, who came to Facebook after working as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, as an economist with the World Bank, as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton Administration, and as an executive at Google, offered the audience insights into her own life along with a wide range of observations and advice. Among them:
Sandberg also talked about the challenges facing women in the workforce, especially in top-level positions. Only 15 or 16 percent of C-suite positions are filled by women, she noted – a number that hasn't moved in a decade. "We need to acknowledge that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership," she said. "The promise of equality is not equality. " To bring about improvement, she advised, women need to stop underestimating their abilities, while companies have to give more thought as to how to mentor, sponsor, and encourage them.
In closing, Sandberg advised the graduates to "make the effort to speak as well as seek the truth, remain true to and open about your authentic self, and give us a world where half our homes are run by men and half our institutions are run by women. I'm pretty sure that would be a better world."
And oh yes, "keep in touch via Facebook," she said with an expressive smile. "And since we're public now, could you click on an ad or two?"
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.