At Wharton’s 127th Commencement, Dean Thomas Robertson encouraged graduates to constantly ‘seek new directions’ in order to thrive in a fast-changing world.
By Kelly Andrews
Graduation days seem to come in two flavors: blazing hot and damp dishrag. This year’s event—Wharton’s 127th, which sent 630 undergraduates and 1,000 MBAs into the real world—was a huddle-under-upper-decks-just-in-case-it-pours day. But the weather, while threatening, held off throughout the morning undergraduate ceremony at Franklin Field, where Georgette Chapman sounded a sentimental note as she addressed the students that were freshmen when she began her stint as Vice Dean and Director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division four years earlier.
Undergraduate speaker Eric Mogil, W’11, one of the students tutored by Chapman during his time at Wharton, remarked that, upon arrival on campus, the minds of him and his classmates “were fires yet to be kindled. Then the flame was sparked. The resulting journey has been robust.”
Robertson emphasized that the journey would take place within a rapidly changing landscape. He noted that on the Dow Jones Industrial Index, only one company—General Electric—of the original lineup remains, while 72 companies have fallen off the Fortune 500 in the past two years.
“In 20 years, at least half of you will work in industries that do not exist today,” he said. “As the world changes, those who endure are those who seek new directions.”
He added: “No matter how carefully you plan, your path will not be predictable.”
When the skies still threatened, the afternoon MBA ceremonies moved into the drier, more intimate confines of the Palestra next door, where well-dressed masses fanned themselves with programs under the banners of Ivy League champions and Big Five rivals.
Wharton Graduate Association President Daniel Kim, WG ’11, said, “When we came to Wharton two years ago, we set aside our accomplishments to join 800 of our peers in a foreign city called Philadelphia. I can say confidently that the last two years have been the best two years of my life.”
Keynote speaker Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup since 2007, had a slightly different perspective based on his experience of the economic crisis.
“These past two years were probably the two best years to be in school,” he said. “The only better way to learn more about the crisis would have been to live it, which I can assure you wasn’t enjoyable. As you were being educated, so was I.”
Now, he said, through reform and retrenching, the financial industry today looks more like the industry of 1983 when he joined it. “It’s more focused on core business and on serving clients. It’s closer to the culture that excited me when I started. When I began, the domestic market was everything. Today we live in a networked world. All roads no longer lead to Wall Street. Roads lead everywhere. Your careers will be defined by emerging markets, increased digitization, things that few of use were thinking about in 1983. There’s more complexity and more opportunities.”
When grads were announced, the Palestra rocked like Penn and Princeton were playing for the Ivy League championship. About 860 new MBAs completed the traditional MBA program, along with 113 in the MBA Program for Executives in Philadelphia and 91 in San Francisco. Sam Lundquist, Associate Dean of External Affairs, welcomed them to the worlds’ largest and most influential alumni network and community. “You’ll be leaving the Wharton campus but your relationship with the School and each other will be for a lifetime.”
Each year, an alumni marshall passes a class flag to a representative of the graduating class, signifying the passage into the alumni body. Ashaf Rizvi, W’86, served the honor for the undergraduates. Later, George Hongchoy, WG’91, handed the MBA flag to Daniel Kim, who held the banner high and ran a final lap around the Palestra to cheers and high fives. The transition was complete.
Before You Go…
Wharton’s Commencement speakers offered the following advice, encouragement, and words of wisdom to the School’s newest graduates as they prepared to move on to their next challenges.
Dean Thomas S. Robertson
No matter how carefully you plan, your path will not be predictable. At times, it won’t seem like a path, but like you’ve entered a looking glass where the landscape and rules are always changing. You as Wharton graduates will be leading the change. You won’t be reflecting the world to come, but shaping it. First you must shape yourselves. Your ability to develop and evolve in a changing world is your greatest asset.
Adam Grant, Associate Professor of Management, Faculty Speaker
Don’t make the right decision. Make the decision right. You’ll face plenty of decisions in your life, and the quality will be determined not by picking the right one, but the actions you take to make the most of your decisions.
Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, MBA Keynote Speaker
Here are lessons from my own experiences. They’re very simple, almost truisms. Find your passion and follow it. Choose the right company and culture. Don’t fear leaving your comfort zone. Have the courage of your convictions. Stay on the course when you find the right one.
Daniel Kim, WG’11, WGA President
Starting over gives us a chance to do great things. Tomorrow you all start over again but I want you to understand that your experiences have taught you to take over. Live every day as if you are starting over.
Georgette Chapman Phillips, Vice Dean and Director of the Undergraduate Division
Don’t let go when you leave campus. When you follow your passions you will not only find life more satisfying, but have the energy to go after them. Challenge yourself more. It’s much easier to succeed and be happy if you’re doing something you love.
Rachel Cervantes, WG’11, MBA Program for Executives Student Speaker
We learned to challenge ourselves, and we didn’t do it alone. What was so wonderful was that the brilliance of our professors was often matched by that of our classmates. We learned to listen to all our teachers, even if they’re not the ones at the front the class.
Eric Mogil, W’11, Undergraduate Speaker
Wharton has always been about the people, about you, about us, and it will always be about the people. While we are all vastly different, the sense of initiative unites us as Wharton. We believe in each other and that’s important, and as the leaders of our respective fields, we’ll continue to believe in each other and our Wharton gumption. I hope you find what you love and never ever lose your gumption.
Alex Stein, WG’11, MBA Student Speaker
The world looks to us. The innovations we develop and the ventures we start have the potential to touch every human life. We need only look at the past decade with history’s successes and failings. Who is more capable to lead other than this graduating class?