Note: This is the text of my speech as Valedictorian for the June 2004 Graduating Class of the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
Good morning, graduates.
Good morning, Chancellor Eric Molson, Rector Frederick Lowy, Provost Martin Singer, and Dean Jerry Tomberlin.
Good morning, members of the Board of Governors, the senate, faculty, administration, and staff.
Good morning, family and friends:
Je me sens extrêmement honoré de parler de la part des diplômés ici ce matin. J’aimerais remercier mes parents pour m’avoir aidé à me rendre jusqu’ici et l’administration pour m’avoir donné ce grand privilège. J’aimerais aussi remercier les familles de tous les autres diplômés, leurs amis, et l’administration pour avoir soutenu les diplômés pendant leurs études chez Concordia.
I feel extremely honoured to be speaking on behalf of the graduates here this morning. I want to thank my parents for helping me make it this far and the administration for giving me this great privilege. I also want to thank the parents of all the graduates, their family and friends, and Concordia faculty and staff for their support of the graduates during their studies at Concordia.
I’d like to begin by reading to you from a letter my older brother, Max, sent me in March 1997. This was a few months before I began studying at Concordia. He wrote to me:
As far as your own future goes, think long and hard about university. It’s a great place to learn to think. Forget about exactly what the degree is in – it’s the environment that will give you the tools for the rest of your life. Just three or four years of thinking, playing, and living. You’ll meet people and flex your mind. The fact is that Montreal is a great place to do this. Concordia is an incredible school and is situated in a very stimulating city. It’s full of people from all over the world. This environment will open your mind and you’ll make contacts that will last a lifetime. University’s a great place, Ryan. If you can do it, get yourself a bachelor’s degree. Take courses in a wide variety of things that interest you and you’ll see. You’ll begin to understand what you can do with your mind, and you’ll stretch the limits of who you are and where you want to go. Now is the time to learn.
Ses mots n’auraient pas pu être plus justes pour moi. La diversité humaine de notre école était tellement stimulante. Les professeurs parlent, entre eux, plus de trente langues différentes. Nos classes étaient intimes et dynamiques, et remplies d’élèves d’origines variées. Il y avait plusieurs élèves qui sortaient du secondaire ainsi que des Cégeps, tous étaient remplis d’entrain et d’enthousiasme. Il y avait également des élèves plus vieux et d’autres encore qui avaient eux-mêmes des enfants. Il y avait même certains qui étaient déjà employés à temps plein et qui, en plus, étudiaient.
This atmosphere makes the university a think-tank, a forum for new ideas and opinions. It has also taught us to interact with different types of people, a lesson that will influence our success in the real world. But it doesn’t stop here. Our school taught us to be men and women of high integrity. The teachers at the JMSB and the courses we took taught us to be ethically and socially responsible.
When we started, some of us were wide-eyed and nervous and some of us wanted to conquer the planet. As I look out on all of you, I suspect that similar emotions are present today as we prepare to head in many different directions. For sure, the experience of being a business school student has been a challenge on academic, intellectual, and social levels. The intense group projects, presentations, heavily weighted term papers… How many times did you leave them until the very last possible minute, before starting on them armed with a cup of coffee, and your trusty PC? Procrastination? Ring any bells? Forget about the advice your parents and teachers gave you to get started early. We developed our own skills for working under pressure and we know they will serve us well in business.
We know this, because of the accomplishments of our JMSB students just this year. They’ve helped to build a solid reputation for our school across Canada and the rest of the world.
At a symposium in Ohio, the Ken Woods Portfolio Management Program took first place as the top student-managed investment fund. JMSB undergrads won the Marketing Happening Cup for the second year in a row. They also won first place at the Network of International Business Schools in St. John’s, and took the Academic Gold at the Commerce Games in Sherbrooke. JMSB undergrads won Gold and Silver medals at the Inter-Collegiate Business Case Competition in Kingston and took third place at the International Undergraduate Case Competition in Victoria.
Meanwhile, the John Molson MBA students were achieving success, winning first place at our prestigious International Case Competition and second place at Ivey’s National Business Plan Competition. Congratulations to everyone who participated and to all the dedicated coaches.
Yet these accomplishments are somewhat bittersweet with the loss of Gianni Forlini, a motivated and dedicated JMSB student. He was a champion of Commerce Games, and a source of inspiration for me. He will not be forgotten.
Every graduate should be extremely proud to have completed a degree at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. Our school’s emphasis on teamwork is what’s given us an edge over other business schools. Why should this end at graduation? This is another lesson we’ll carry forward through our contributions to the community and it’ll reflect directly upon where we’ve been educated. We’re all ambassadors, not only of the John Molson School of Business, but of Concordia University as well. Encourage your brothers and sisters to study here. Speak to them like my brother spoke to me. We are the role models for the younger generation. So it’s our turn to give back to this school, whether as mentors, coaches, or speakers, or even financially when possible.
Today’s the culmination of a significant chapter of our lives. Many of us are headed along different paths. Some of us will travel the world. Some of us will continue our educations at the graduate and post-graduate levels. Some of us will enter the job market right away. We may become advertising executives, bankers, accountants, consultants, analysts, economists, stockbrokers, salespeople, entrepreneurs, managers. Some of us may become teachers, lawyers, writers, politicians, or rock stars. But our mandate is clear, that is, to responsibly lead the next generation of movers and shakers.
Our education at Concordia has given us the foundation for successful careers. However, attitude is critical to success in all facets of life. While university was stimulating, our next challenges may be even more so. By constantly seeking to immerse ourselves in unfamiliar environments, we will overcome obstacles and become stronger individuals. Everywhere around us, there are opportunities to seize. Unfortunately, too often, we let them pass us by.
I remember an inspiring teacher who taught me some fundamental life-lessons. She told me to constantly set goals and develop strategies to attain them and that if I wanted anything badly enough, I could have it. She made me realise that it’s all a matter of attitude and it’s important to believe in myself and remain determined and focused. The only thing that could stop me is in here. With practice, I found it more pertinent to apply her philosophy to all aspects of my life. I also found I’d gotten better at it. Above all, she said, “Have fun!” Don’t do anything you don’t expect to enjoy.
You know, in 1980, an American psychologist named Srully Blotnick released a study showing that of 1500 people asked whether they’d chosen their careers for money or passion, 83% of them said they’d chosen their careers because they believed they would make more money. Only 17% said they’d chosen their passions. Recently, it was determined that 101 of the original 1500 became millionaires after 20 years. What’s most fascinating is that 100 out of these 101 people were from the 17% who’d chosen their careers for reasons of passion, not money.
Humour me for a minute, and consider the Greek legend of Icarus, imprisoned in an island-labyrinth with his father, Daedalus. In order to escape the confines of their prison, Daedalus constructed fantastic sets of wings for the two of them, using feathers, wax, and thread. Before flying to freedom, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too low or his feathers would get wet, nor too high or the sun would melt the wax. But young Icarus ignored his father’s advice and headed toward the heavens. Flying too close to the sun, the wax on his wings melted, and Icarus fell to his death.
While the outcome of that story is a bit extreme, I think that we’re all a bit like Icarus, eager to spread our wings and go as far as possible. But we should be smarter than Icarus. I challenge you, fellow graduates, to aim for the sky. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired to fly even higher and even farther than Icarus ever did!
Today, we are the cream of the crop. We made it. Let’s congratulate ourselves. We are the best business school graduates in the world right now. We have learned from a school that’s situated in a diverse, multi-cultural environment and has educated us in socially responsible business practice. We are well armed to take on the business world. We are creative, innovative, dynamic, intelligent, forward-thinking, responsible individuals. Let’s not doubt ourselves. We are all of these things or we would not be here.
Today’s the day to aim higher. It’s time to seize the day. It’s time to embrace new adventures. It’s time to be bold, to explore new horizons, to apply the skills we’ve developed and knowledge we’ve acquired, and to go forth and be the leaders of tomorrow. JMSB’s grads today are leaders tomorrow. So, what will we do? We will accomplish everything we want to because we are the graduates of Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.
Graduates: Fly higher and farther. Thank you and good luck.