Selected by his peers as the 2014 student speaker for graduation, Casey Gerald’s impassioned speech to his fellow MBAs quickly garnered national attention. Highlighting the motivation that has shaped his ambitious career, Casey urged his listeners to become the business pioneers to tackle today’s unsolved problems. Now, one year out of HBS, Casey is the CEO and co-founder of MBAs Across America, a movement that pairs MBAs with entrepreneurs and local businesses across the country. Here, we ask Casey about his HBS experience and any advice he has for prospective students.

Why did you want to come to business school?

Growing up in inner city Dallas I always thought the real horizon was going to school and playing football in Texas. One day my junior year a coach from Yale showed up and asked me if I wanted to go to Yale. People in my community started hearing about this possibility that this scrawny kid from our neighborhood could go to a place like Yale and it meant so much to them. I went really because I thought I couldn’t afford not to go.

Once there, Yale really opened my eyes in so many ways. One, to the potential of my life and all the dreams I had not dreamed, and networks and resources that I-- and people like me in my neighborhood-- never had access to. The question really became permanent in my mind: What am I going to do with my opportunities to provide opportunities to others?

I used to think this meant becoming a lawyer. In college, I would sneak over to the law school and listen to the speakers. One day there was a speaker that said in the 20th century if you wanted to change the world you had to go to law school, but in the 21st century if you want to change the world, go to business school. So I thought I should figure out a way to go to business school.

That summer, while I was an intern, HBS started the 2+2 program. At that time the program was, and still is, about finding folks that wouldn’t traditionally go to business school and convincing them that a place like HBS is for them. I applied because I was convinced that if I wanted to play some role in changing the world in the 21st century that I had to go to business school and become engaged in understanding business and leadership. Without question, HBS was the best place to do that.

What surprised you the most about HBS?

The biggest surprise for me came when, my first year, I used a Career and Professional Development “Take ECs to lunch” program, where they gave you meal vouchers to take ECs [second-years] to go to lunch with you. I decided to go through the entire second year resume book to find people that I call “unicorns”-- people that have unconventional and nontraditional backgrounds-- that could give me guidance on how to navigate my experience in a creative way.

I actually made two or three of my closest friends at HBS through these lunches. I also got some confidence that crazy people go to business school-- people who are living daringly and courageously and creatively in the world. I think that was one small manifestation of the larger surprise of Harvard Business School for me-- so many of us are worried that we will have to pretend to be someone else when we get to business school. The vast majority of us, however, feel more ourselves at HBS and feel more free to be who were are and to do what we are passionate about. I think that is the biggest surprise.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

I think the most important question is not “what do you want to do?” but “why do you want to do it?” If you are honest with yourself about why you want to go to HBS or business school more broadly, and you have the courage to authentically and honestly articulate that in your application, then you have very little to worry about. Even if you do not get in, at least you will have done the work thinking seriously about what you are doing with your life and career. The worst thing you can do, as a person applying, is to fake it and try and articulate what you think people want to hear. I think that comes through. More importantly, if you did get in with a false “why” then I think you will have a hard time finding the motivation to get the most out of the experience.

Do you have a favorite HBS memory?

Actually I have a memory that is yet to come. This Saturday I, along with one of my best friends from HBS, will officiate the wedding of two of my other best friends from HBS. I think this really goes to show that so many people came to business school thinking about getting networking connections, thinking about getting colleagues and mentors, and even sometimes thinking about getting friends, but I was lucky enough to get family.