30 May 2019

MBA Class of 2019 Celebrates Class Day with Remarks from Student Speakers and Alumnus Michael Bloomberg


BOSTON—Yesterday afternoon, all 927 members of the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA Class of 2019 gathered on the lawn in front of Baker Library | Bloomberg Center to enjoy their annual Class Day Celebration, held in advance of today’s Commencement exercises. Along with their family, friends, and guests, they honored five Alumni Achievement Award recipients and six faculty teaching award recipients, and listened to the wise words of their classmates and one of the namesakes of the landmark building in the background, Michael R. Bloomberg.

Megan Williams, Co-Chair of the Student Association Class Day Committee, opened the celebration by encouraging her classmates to pause and reflect on the the “nonstop 21 months” they had just completed. “Class Day is a chance to remember the first time you realized that Harvard Business School is simultaneously everything, and nothing, like you expected it to be,” she said.

Williams then introduced HBS Dean Nitin Nohria, who welcomed the crowd and asked that while family, friends, and guests explore the campus and larger University, they also take the time to get to know the students. “Not just the ones you love and have come here to celebrate, but their classmates. What you will discover is that the most distinctive feature of Harvard Business School is the extent to which our students take center stage in our educational experience,” said Nohria.

Following Dean Nohria’s welcome, students introduced the five winners of the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor HBS confers upon its graduates. This year’s recipients were Marla Beck (MBA/MPA 1998), CEO and cofounder of Bluemercury, Inc., a luxury beauty retail chain; Michael R. Bloomberg (MBA 1966), founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City; Michael G. Mullen (AMP 109, 1991), 17th chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; Tracy P. Palandjian (MBA 1997), CEO and cofounder of Social Finance, a nonprofit impact investing organization dedicated to mobilizing capital to drive social progress; and Álvaro Rodríguez Arregui (MBA 1995), cofounder and managing partner of IGNIA, a venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs who bring goods and services to Mexico’s emerging middle class.

Student association co-presidents Triston Jay Francis and Sana Mohammed offered final words of advice to their fellow students, drawing upon personal experiences--Francis’s navigation of dyslexia and Mohammed’s caring for her disabled brother--to illustrate the central value of community. To build community, said Mohammed, one must be vulnerable and give without expectation of return. “It is this desire to be vulnerable and to give that excites us most about the class of 2019,” she said. “If we’re going to be leaders who make a difference in the world, we need to build community, and to build community we need to be vulnerable. We need to give, and to help others give.” In conclusion, Francis said, “HBS is not a two-year experience. This journey that we’ve been on lasts a lifetime. May we always have the courage to lead with vulnerability and the compassion to give of ourselves regularly.”

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Graduating student Dan Cooper then bestowed Faculty Teaching Awards on six faculty members for their exceptional contributions to the HBS experience. Senior Lecturer Edward B. (Ted) Berk, Professor Joshua D. Margolis, and Professor Matthew C. Weinzieri received the Required Curriculum Award, and Professor David A. Moss, Professor Tom Nichols, and Associate Professor Sophus A. Reinert received the Elective Curriculum Award.

Class Day student speaker Brandon Rapp explored the relationship between courage and belonging, and the potential for courage to create a more just world. He began with a story from his time as a 9th grade math teacher at his alma mater in New Orleans. Kendrick, he said, was a quiet kid who sat at the back. One day, he solved a problem perfectly. “Job well done,” said Rapp with a nod of his head. Years later, he sat with Kendrick’s mother as she agonized over how to save her son from a stronghold gang. Months later, at 20, Kendrick was murdered. “Through these glimpses of that courageous boy, I could see what was possible,” said Rapp. “I see myself, I see all of us, navigating our courage to be individuals while connected to a defined whole.”

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During his first summer at HBS, while interning in San Francisco, Rapp learned that he did not have enough money for housing, and that he had not met academic requirements to begin the next year at HBS without a petition. Over dinner with his aunt, who told stories about growing up on a plantation as a sharecropper, Rapp realized the value of hailing from generations of courageous, resilient people. “Class of 2019, I hope that we never forget the things that we are thankful for, and the ‘what’ and ‘whom’ we are courageously fighting for,” he said. “I hope that we remember to be courageous. I hope that we choose to tap into that courage to fight for a better world and for each other, and to lean in to what we learned here: to speak truth even when your voice might quiver just a bit, and your hands might tremble.”

Courage, concluded Rapp, is indeed the key to moving once again toward love and equality. “I want to see some courage to be somewhere; like Maya Angelou preached: ‘I want to see some peace somewhere’; I want to see some moral leadership and justice; some equity and diversity in the board rooms; and real considerations for the humanness of us. Let’s dance daringly with our divinity; our courage to stand for what is right, in spite of, and create moments that form new shared experiences that move us all forward and closer together. For an amazing 2 years, Harvard Business School and the Class of 2019, I say, ‘Job well done.’”

Class Day concluded with remarks from Mayor Bloomberg, chosen as the ceremony’s Distinguished Speaker, who counseled the value of ethics and encouraged students to make decisions based on quality of the opportunity and room for growth. “What's important for your career is not your starting salary. It’s your development and happiness,” he said.

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Among his remarks on the importance of ethics, Bloomberg recounted lessons from his first job at Salomon Brothers, as well counsel from his parents and time as an Eagle Scout. “Being ethical doesn't require a master’s degree. It requires having a conscience and following it. It requires being honest and truthful, and never lying or cheating.”

Speaking on the confounding situation in Washington, and recalling the roots of capitalism and historic efforts to restore faith in the markets, Bloomberg stated that integrity is the solution to the country’s political and economic woes. He exhorted the graduating class to take a leading role in restoring faith in the promise of America and the future of the American dream. Among his recommendations on how to do that were:

Start with yourself. Wherever your career leads you, be honest with your colleagues, clients and contractors. Don't ever try to take advantage of them, and don't hesitate to speak up when someone else does. Public faith in private markets rests on individual actions.

Align yourself with companies that are engaged in philanthropy. It's as good for the bottom line as anything you can do.

Give back on your own. People have a lot more respect for those who make a difference than they do for people who just make money.

As an executive, don’t undervalue your labor force and over-compensate your CEOs. Integrity pays. There is no better way to strengthen capitalism than to give people a greater stake in its success.

Never self-deal. Ever. Avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. Your reputation is everything. Don't sell it or trade it for anything.

After highlighting all of these principles, Bloomberg said, “Insist on no less from the people who ask for the most precious commodity you will ever own: Your vote. Elect people who understand that it's their obligation to protect the integrity of capitalism by making sure it works for everyone.”

To a standing ovation, Bloomberg concluded with one more piece of advice for the class of 2019. “Tonight, have one last celebration, and tomorrow start helping to restore and renew our national sense of integrity. Elect people who understand that it's their obligation to protect the integrity of capitalism by making sure it works for everyone. You can do it!”


Mark Cautela

About Harvard Business School

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 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.