Ever since I graduated early and left Fuqua in December, I’ve been anticipating this moment — the official graduation ceremony. I’ve always appreciated the duality of graduation: it is both the end to something memorable, and the beginning of something exciting, it is both somber and celebratory, and it is a time to both reflect, and look forward. It is a time of mixed emotions, to be sure, but I don’t regret coming back to Durham for it.
This duality was reflected in the words of Duke’s commencement speaker, Fareed Zakaria. Mr. Zakaria, a noted CNN correspondent with expertise in foreign policy, contrasted the common perception of joblessness run amok and threats to our national security with promise of an exciting new world, loaded with opportunities. He concluded, to raucous applause, that today’s world is awash in promise, and that we, as recent graduates, are in the best possible position to take advantage of it.
I’ve long been an admirer of Mr. Zakaria’s work; he comes off as well versed, humble, and not overly opinionated. But it wasn’t these traits that endeared him to me during his speech. As an MBA, his words resonated with me more than they might have otherwise. Our coursework is heavily rooted in the concept that it’s hard to know how to do what’s right unless you can understand those who do wrong. Our case studies often revolve around systematic lapses in judgment that doom companies, unethical behavior, or structural problems that cripple entire industries.
Mr. Zakaria’s optimism was more than welcome. It’s hard to turn on the television or open an internet browser without getting exposure to a doomsday scenario. And he had a point; coming out of one of the premier institutions in the United States, there’s no reason to resign ourselves to some awful fate. We’ve been told for the past two years that we’re supposed to be leaders of consequence, but we wouldn’t have a lot of incentive to do that if the future was as bleak as we’re often led to believe. As he said, we have opportunities that few others have.
So, as we go forward from this place, into a variety of roles across the globe, it’s important for us not to become complacent. The pomp and circumstance of last weekend seems to indicate that we’ve accomplished something, and we have, but if this is the peak, then I’m not sure it was worth the price of admission. Mr. Zakaria suggested that with our tremendous opportunity comes an onus of responsibility, to make the most of the avenues presented to us. I tend to agree, and if nothing else, I feel that after two years, Fuqua’s prepared us for this role of a lifetime.