Faculty Advice for Graduates
Harvard Business School faculty members offer words of wisdom for graduating students as they head out to make a difference in the world.
18 May 2018   Christian Camerota

As Harvard Business School students prepare for Commencement on Thursday, May 24, 2018, we asked members of the faculty what those students should keep front-of-mind as they head out to make a difference in the world. Their responses are offered below:

“For the next 10 years, choose things to do, not things to be. There are people in this world who want to be an author but don’t want to write a book; who want to be married but don’t want to care for a spouse; who want to be parents but don’t want to raise a child. Similarly, there are those who want to be leaders but don’t want to lead. Don’t be one of them. Indeed, do the opposite: lead without being The Leader. Those who choose things to do, rather than things to be, come back to their 10th reunion with more to share and less to prove.”

“It’s going to be all right. Really. All the things you’re really worried about? They will work out. It’s the things that you’re not worrying about right now that are going to be trouble--your families, your health, your relationship with your partner.

It's not that I’m suggesting you don’t throw yourself into your work. The world is in crisis, and you have the immense privilege of doing work that might make a difference. Make the most of it. Find a way to link your deepest values to your skills and work like crazy to build a just and sustainable (and highly profitable!) world.

But do remember to keep time for other things. When my first husband died unexpectedly, all I could think about was the fact that I wasted so much time being annoyed with him for forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning, when what was really important was that every day together was luminous, and was an opportunity to laugh, to touch, to dance. Life goes so quickly. Try to pay attention. ”

“It is so challenging to think about the big issues as one builds a successful career, but you and your generation must not lose sight of them. Inequality is rampant, the natural environment is overwhelmed, and global peace is threatened by malign forces. I would ask you, in every decision you make every day, to remember the big picture, and play your part in helping to create a more sustainable and just world.”

“First, if you do not understand something someone is saying, remember you may not be the only one who is confused. Never be afraid to stick your hand up and say, 'Excuse me, I don't understand. Can you explain that to me again?' Innumerable problems could have been avoided had someone just asked this basic question.

Second, choose your business associates wisely. Eventually, you are going to behave like them. If you don't like what you see, run--don't walk--away.

Third, do not let others tell you how to keep score of your life. It's your life, you decide what's important to you at each moment. The beauty of life is that it's a game where you not only decide how you keep score, but you get to change the way you keep score anytime you want. There is no other game like it!”

“I would like to give the same advice to the graduating students that was given by John H. Johnson, the founder of EBONY magazine, 30 years ago when he visited HBS and was the keynote speaker at the Naylor Fitzhugh conference.

You have the privilege of graduating from the best business school in the world. The question is: what are you going to do with it? Here’s the answer: go and have a great business career. Make a lot of money. And throughout your career , from beginning to end, use a respectable portion of your earnings to support organizations that help the less fortunate. Finance shelters and food pantries for the homeless. Finance computer science training programs for low income Black children. Be the benefactors for inner city charter schools like Urban Prep that educates young men from the most poverty stricken communities.

Use your privilege, hard work, brilliance, and assets to positively impact the lives of others.”

“Be ambitious, but be humble. And be ready to embark on life-long learning. With the pace of change today, you have to be ready to adapt as some whole industries and categories of work disappear, and new ones emerge. If you can keep learning new things, it will help you to seize new opportunities and not get trapped in things that rapidly become the past.”

“Take as many opportunities as possible to reconnect with one another and nurture HBS friendships. When in doubt, make an effort to be there for birthdays, weddings, etc. These gestures--both large and small--are good for the soul and will help your relationships take root and grow in your post-HBS life.”


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