Kogod Dean John T. Delaney delivered an address to Spring 2019 graduates on May 12 in Bender Arena.
Kogod Undergraduate Student Speaker Steven Rossi delivered an address for graduates.
Good morning and thank you to the dedicated families, friends, faculty, staff, and of course, all the wonderful mothers on their special day. You helped us arrive at this joyful celebration. Because of your love and support, we made it through four years of hard work, long nights of decision making, and all the failures and successes that come with being in college. My fellow students, I want to commend all of us for our accomplishment. Through our vision, persistence, and resilience we’ve succeeded. And yet, I can confidently say I'm standing here because for me, this wasn't always the case. In fact, although we hate to admit it, I, like most of us, experienced something nobody likes to talk about: Failure.
In a way, my university experience has been defined by it. For example, after dedicating a year and a half on my startup, Fly Calendars, with Professors White and Bellows in the AU incubator, I decided to leave it all and call it quits. When I walked away, I felt like I had failed myself, and no matter how much I wanted it to be successful, the hardest part was knowing I was working on something that was no longer my dream. Although walking away was one of the hardest things I had to do, it taught me a lesson I’d never forget: failure is essential in the pursuit of our dreams. In fact, failing forward helps us become stronger by learning and growing in ways we never imagined. Yet, why is failing still so hard?
Most of us carry a dissonance within us: battling the tension between the person we believe we should be and the person we are. We hold ourselves to impossible expectations, often spending our lives checking off boxes we hope will lead to success. Even as business majors, we face several judgements and misconceptions about who we are. No, we don’t all study finance, and no we don’t sleep in a suit every night, only when we don’t do laundry. In all seriousness, it’s difficult to avoid idealizing perfection when perceptions of success like landing on Forbes 30 under 30 are thrown at us daily. Like many, I felt like a failure because I had not achieved massive success. It was this mindset that led me to realize I lost sight of why I started in the first place. For the first time, I had to ask myself, “am I pursuing my dreams for the right reasons?”
The reality is, failing forward is all about learning the necessary skills and resilience to only reach bigger destinations than we ever conceived, and to value the process and value those we meet along the way. I didn’t know it at the time, but my venture gave me an indispensable opportunity to meet friends, make professional connections, and learn what I’m truly passionate about. When we fail, we gain the opportunity to learn from others and adopt new perspectives. It allows us the insight needed to get back up, dust ourselves off and rethink our approach. These new insights may even lead us to realize the most important point of it all: it was never just about succeeding in the first place. It’s about finding purpose, even if it means walking away from everything you thought you were looking for.
If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout college, it’s that we are gathering. Gathering experiences through our classes and internships, successes like getting an A on that project you worked so hard on, and of course, failures, like every group project we all dreaded. These experiences influence our perception, mold our voice, make us unique and valuable. Through gathering experiences, we use what we’ve learned to change lives and change the world. As I’ve continued to grow, I’ve learned true success begins when you part from the picture of who you should be because that person doesn’t exist. Through your triumphs and struggles, you are constantly creating your own version of success. The only way you can fail is to idly stand by, too fearful to define your own path. Remember: this is your story, and you are the author. I couldn’t say it better than J.K. Rowling did in her 2008 Harvard commencement speech: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
We are entering an environment characterized by political unrest, partisanship, and inequality. While we find solutions, we will most likely at some point experience failure. However, staying stagnant is not an option. We must use what we’ve learned to bounce back, be bold, and innovative, fearless in our attempts to bring about the change we desire. I challenge all of you to continue failing forward to create the wild success we’ve dreamt of. And if you ever find yourself discouraged along the way, just remember the wise words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Thank you, and congratulations Class of 2019.
Kogod Graduate Student Speaker Laura Guillossou delivered an address for graduates.
Good afternoon distinguished guests, graduates, faculty, staff, families and friends. Before I begin, I would like to dedicate this speech to my brother, Emmanuel Guillossou.
He passed away in February 2015 and as I run through a few memories, I can’t help but think of him and how strong and positive he made me.
My journey into business started early. I mean, while others dreamed of being astronauts and sports stars, weren’t we all dreaming of being accountants and analysts? But something inspired us all to end up here today. For me, that inspiration was my parents. The first idea I want to share with you came from my father, who taught me since my childhood that business is never just about commerce, but that it is about creating a change.
When I was a first grader, we had to present what our parents’ jobs were. For my mom, it was easy. She was my mom. For my dad, his job as a transportation economist at the World Bank was a little more complicated for me to understand. As he explained to me that he worked with countries to develop their infrastructure, one question reigned in my mind: why did he chose this job? He told me that building one road, creating one business, could be the catalyst to changing one person’s life from poverty to stability and that person could be the change to an entire community.
As I grew older, I learned more about the life my mom came from. That’s where I learned my second life lesson: Do what you can to make a difference. No matter how big or how small, trust me that it will make a change, that it will impact someone’s life. See, my mom comes from Madagascar. While some people know the name from a movie where a lemur dances around singing, “I like to move it, move it,” the state of the country is unfortunately less ideal. While it has most beautiful beaches and a thriving island culture, it is currently ranked as the tenth poorest country in the world. Political turmoil has led to change but come at the cost of people's welfare. But each time I visited with my family, I noticed something. Whenever she could, my mom would figure out a way to help her old neighborhood, whether it funding jerseys for the neighborhood soccer team, renovating the basketball courts or creating a community garden. I noticed how happy and grateful the people were with such small changes. You would think that living in poverty would make it hard to find such positivity, but it didn’t. I want to thank Kogod too for reminding us of these lessons and providing us learning opportunities like the Washington Initiative to help our communities. Fellow graduates, continue to search for the same opportunities to do good in your future jobs. If they don’t exist, create them.
And this is where my third lesson comes in: not all of us fit into a single box and we shouldn’t have to, even as we face the pressures of the workplace. As a rising auditor immersed in accounting, I learned about law and sciences on my own time through combining my bachelor's and master's degrees. We all have other passions, whether it be sports, art, or music. I stand before you as a future accountant but I also love makeup and cars. We have international students from Asia and Europe, and we’re graduating with degrees from finance to business and entertainment. We are not only about grey suits and spreadsheets. I encourage you all to embrace your individuality and find people who will you cheer you on.
I want to leave you all with one final idea, today: the power that higher education provides to make a difference. More than just a degree, education can be a turning point to a stable lifestyle and avoiding poverty, especially for first-generation college students. I have nephews that lived in Madagascar but decided to move to France because of the college opportunities a developed country offers. They struggled to pay rent but are now university graduates who are active members of society with careers they are passionate about and they are helping people who need a leg up, just like they did. But today, education also comes at a very high cost. I earned both my bachelor’s and my master’s in a combined program because it was also a way to save tuition cost. I was blessed to have parents to help me pay my way. But not everyone has that same chance. Some of my fellow master’s graduates worked full-time jobs or had families or both as they completed their degree and I know how hard that was. Think about what you’re leaving here today with: your new degree, community, and family. Future generations should not be smothered by the cost of tuition or student loans. It will take time but we can make that change. I hope you believe that, too.
I can’t help but think of my memories here, like Professor Lindsay finding out I had gotten my first offer for a Big 4 internship and was even more excited than I was. Or when I was having a hard day at my internship and a simple email from Professors Evans and Bedford changed my whole day and my whole semester. Some of my favorite memories were spent with you, my fellow classmates, whether struggling through assignments we couldn’t understand alone or joking around in Harris lounge during our rare moments of free time. You are all an incredible group of friends who have constantly inspired and challenged me to do my best, and I am glad to have been part of this family. Thank you and congratulations class of 2019! We did it!
Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. delivered the keynote address for Spring 2019 graduates on May 12 in Bender Arena.
Roger W. Ferguson, Jr.
President and CEO, TIAA
Receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws
Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. is the president and chief executive officer of TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization and the leading provider of retirement services for people in academic, government, medical, cultural, and other nonprofit fields. He formerly served as vice chair of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System. As the only governor in Washington, DC, on 9/11, he led the Fed’s initial response to the terrorist attacks, taking actions that kept the US financial system functioning while reassuring the global financial community that the US economy would not be paralyzed.
Ferguson serves on numerous boards, including those of the Smithsonian Institution and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and co-chairs its Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. Ferguson is also a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and a member of the Economic Club of New York, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Group of Thirty.
During the Obama administration, Ferguson served on the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness as well as its predecessor, the Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He also co-chaired the National Research Council’s Committee on the Long-Run Macroeconomic Effects of the Aging US Population. Ferguson holds a bachelor of arts, a juris doctor, and a doctor of philosophy in economics, all from Harvard University.