Commencement 2010: Excerpts

Graduation season is here, and with it the fine words and idealistic sentiments of commencement speakers. This year produced a bumper crop of speakers from the world of business, many of whom touched on the recent financial crisis, entrepreneurship, social responsibility, and capitalism itself. Several were the subject of protests: At Syracuse and Columbia universities, speakers viewed as playing a role in the crisis were the subject of withering criticism by students but ultimately took to the podium anyway. What follows are excerpts from 10 recent commencement speeches.

Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive, JPMorgan Chase

Syracuse University, May 16

"More than any previous generation, you have been tested and shaped by unrelenting change, and as you graduate, you're entering an age in which the institutions and ideas that we have relied on for generations have failed or have been fundamentally altered …. The opportunities that you'll create and seize may not yet be evident. They may not yet exist. But you will change the world for the better. Of this I am sure."

H. Todd Stitzer, former CEO, Cadbury Schweppes

Columbia Business School, May 16

"I don't believe in Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' or its more elegant, modern-day description, 'efficient capital markets.' I believe that capitalism is the sum total of the actions of many individual business leaders, business leaders who can make a difference. And I believe that the best business leaders are principled business leaders …. Now capitalism is often seen as a force devoid of values and social responsibility, a one-way relationship in thrall to profit margins and shareholder returns. And unbridled capitalism, driven by ego and greed, can certainly be a destructive force, not just to those [a company] does business with but to the company itself. History shows that business leaders who operate in this way inevitably come undone."

Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO, American Express

Northeastern University, May 7

"Some of us believe … that business exists because society allows us to exist. In exchange for that permission to pursue profits, business must behave and act in ways that protect and enhance the world we live in…. You can't just look at the bottom line. There's an impact on society that goes far beyond the product or job it creates."

Seth Goldman, co-founder, president, and CEO, Honest Tea

American University, Kogod School of Business, May 8

"Be the tea …. You may not be the sweetest or cheapest tea on the market, or the one with the flashiest label. You may not be the one that's going to cure cancer or restore someone's sex drive. But if you believe in what you're saying, if you believe in what you're doing, you'll be more effective, more passionate, and more authentic in everything you do."

Robert McDonald, chairman, president, and CEO, Procter & Gamble

Hampden-Sydney College, May 9

"Graduates, you will soon leave this wonderful community and venture into a new world to get ready for new jobs, new opportunities, and new lives. Along the way, you're going to face a lot of pressure. Pressure to go along, to get along, to toe the line, to look the other way when you see things that aren't right … and pressure to do things simply because everybody else is doing them. Never give in to that pressure. Have the fortitude to do the right thing, not the easy thing."

Richard Blum, founder and chairman, Blum Capital Partners

University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, May 14

"One truth is that risk is inescapable—and in my opinion, risk is the best teacher of all …. I've always been a risk-taker, and I really urge that you consider taking some, too, especially when you are young. And I think you should view the current environment as an opportunity. Inasmuch as you can hardly find a truly safe job, you are, by definition, going to take a risk. So you ought to consider joining a small or medium-size company at least for part of your career—particularly one that is on the cutting eduge …. Change brings a certain amount of chaos, and that can be frightening. But it is also the time of greatest potential for those who can seize the moment."

Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate and founder, Grameen Bank

Duke University, May 16

"You are a lucky generation. You are lucky because you have the most powerful technology in your hands: to create a new world. Other generations didn't have that …. If you want to use this technology to make money, it will [help] you make money, and make a lot of money. If you want to take this technology to change the world, to make it a better world, definitely it will take you there. It's your choice."

Carl Schramm, president and CEO, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business & Management, Apr. 17

"Your job—everyone in this room's job—is to conceive of themselves as an entrepreneur, because in many respects this is how we give vitality to the idea of being an American. What have our entrepreneurs done? In addition to producing the mechanism that has given us extraordinary growth, the entrepreneur does three things to make it happen. He or she invents the new. It is the entrepreneur who taught us about human needs we didn't know we had. Anyone in this room who is more than 20 years old did not imagine 20 years ago that the cell phone was in fact an inseparable part of your anatomy. Entrepreneurs figured that out. Entrepreneurs create the companies. They objectify their idea into a company that is in fact the generating machine of jobs in America. This year, to the extent we have new jobs, they will all be created in firms that are less than five years old. Entrepreneurs are vital to this recovery. Lastly, it is business, not government, that creates all wealth."

Vikram Pandit, CEO, Citigroup

Columbia University, School of International & Public Affairs, May 17

"Americans have the right to be angry about the financial crisis. People should question the financial system and those who run it. The severe impact of the financial crisis demonstrates that even in the 21st century, we have not learned how to achieve a healthy balance between private economic power and public interest. Of course we need significant change. We need to hit the reset button and get society working once again for the common interest. We cannot live without the financial system, but we do not have to accept its excesses."