24 May 2018

Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2018 Celebrates Class Day


BOSTON—At their Class Day ceremony yesterday afternoon, on the day before Commencement on the sun-drenched lawn in front of Baker Library | Bloomberg Center, the 915 members of the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2018, along with their families, friends, and guests, greeted five Alumni Achievement Award recipients, honored four faculty members who had had an extraordinary impact on their lives both inside and outside the classroom, and listened to the wisdom and wit of several speakers.

After welcoming remarks by event chair Anant Vidur Puri and HBS Dean Nitin Nohria, who paid tribute to the graduating class by saying “what a privilege it has been to partner with you,” the five winners of the School’s Alumni Achievement Awards, the highest honor HBS can bestow upon a graduate, were introduced, including Claudio L. Haddad (12th session of the Owner/President Management Program, 1987), chairman of the Insper Institute of Education and Research, a university he helped launch in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Carla A. Harris ((MBA 1987), vice chairman of wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley, overseeing the firm’s multicultural client strategy; Christopher B. Howard (MBA 2003), president of Robert Morris University, a nationally ranked, doctoral-granting institution near Pittsburgh; Abigail P. Johnson (MBA 1988), chairman and CEO of Fidelity Management and Research LLC; and John A. Paulson (MBA 1980), president of Paulson & Co. Inc., an investment management firm.

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Addressing their classmates, student government co-presidents Angelica Castellanos and Kevin Ferguson II thanked their fellow students for entrusting them with the responsibility of leadership. “There is no doubt in our minds that whatever your measure of success, you’ll get there, and you’ll make things happen,” Castellanos added. “Do not underestimate how strong you are and never lose sight of your responsibilities to those around you.” Noted Ferguson, “There is now but one question left to be answered—how will you uphold the mission of the Harvard Business School and be a leader who makes a difference in the world.”

After a “comedic reflection” by David Kim—the first of its kind at an HBS Class Day—the students bestowed Faculty Teaching Awards on Senior Lecturer Ted Berk, who taught in the required first-year course Finance II; Professor Joshua Margolis, course head for the Required Curriculum course Leadership and Organizational Behavior; Professor David Moss, who offered the second-year elective Creating the Modern Financial System; and Professor Tom Nicholas for his efforts and excellence in teaching both the first-year course The Entrepreneurial Manager and the Elective Curriculum’s The Coming of Managerial Capitalism.

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Student keynoter Serrena Iyer, chosen by the Class Day Committee from nearly 50 aspiring orators, provided the audience with perspectives on her journey to HBS and on her plans after graduation. Having lost most of her left hip soon after she was born due to an infection caused by a contaminated vaccine, she explained that she was confined to a wheelchair for most of her high school years. With the wheelchair in plain view, she said, people could see she was in some distress and tried to help. But it was a different story when she was able to go without the wheelchair. Then, others could not see her pain, she said, and there’s a lesson to be learned from that: “The hardest things people face are those the rest of us can’t see--the feelings and fears they don’t know how to articulate or how to ask for help with….I have faith that after we graduate, you will use what you know from your two years here to solve the problems that aren’t so obvious.”

Iyer also described her initial reluctance to leave the comfort and confidence she felt as an equity trader at Goldman Sachs after graduating from Yale. “I was terrified of going back to school and losing that feeling,” she admitted, “especially here at HBS, where I expected to be surrounded by the accomplished future leaders of the world.” Once ensconced on campus, however, she saw her perception of leadership change. It wasn’t confined to the conventional wisdom of those who possessed charismatic and outgoing personalities. Instead, she embraced a definition once used to describe film director Stephen Spielberg—“a giant who doesn’t make other people feel small. I can’t imagine a better description of the type of leader I aspire to be,” she said.

Iyer concluded her remarks by thanking her classmates for helping her make the decision to follow her dream and head for a job in Hollywood after graduation. “You taught me not to fear what would happen if I failed, but to dream of who I could be if I succeeded,” she noted.

Now eager and able to stand up on her own, both literally and figuratively, Iyer urged her classmates to stand up and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. “It’s going to mean stepping into each other’s path when they go astray, keeping each other honest, holding each other accountable to the dreams and desires we espoused here, and encouraging each other to live life a little bit off script.”

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Class Day concluded with remarks by alumna Carla Harris, chosen as the ceremony’s Distinguished Speaker, who energetically provided the graduating students with a playbook of advice, based on her own years of experience on the job and in life. “You have the tools to become a great leader,” she said. “You’ve had the privilege at HBS of having access to opportunities and esteemed scholars. But there are other things you need.”

Among Harris’s recommendations:

You have to do more than just get the work done. Performance alone doesn’t do the trick. It decreases in value as people come to expect it of you. But relationships are always a valuable “currency” in every organization.

You can’t ascend without a sponsor who represents your best talents, skills, and interests even when you’re not with them.

Talking is overrated. Listening is more important and leads to leadership.

When a crisis comes, don’t react but respond, calling upon your intellect rather than your emotions.

Dare to innovate, to take risks. Leaders disrupt. Be fearless in the face of change, which you should try to bring about. If you fail, it’s not failure but experience.

Fear has no place in your “success equation.” When you’re afraid, you fail to take advantage of an opportunity such as a promotion or a raise.

Be an inclusive leader. Gone are the days of my way or the highway. Solicit and embrace others’ points of view. Diversity of opinion, gender, race, etc., is essential.

Decisions affecting people are more critical than things like the price of an initial public offering.

There’s no need to fake it until you make it. Be you. Be comfortable in your own skin. Bring your authentic self to every interaction.

Play big. Don’t play it safe; don’t take baby steps.

The more you give thanks, the more powerful you will become.


Jim Aisner

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.