November 6, 2020

What if Commerce Is the Path Through? Comments to Students on Election Night

On election night, we invited our undergraduate and pre-experience graduate students to an early-evening faculty panel titled “Commerce Is the Catalyst.” We wanted to take a moment to get together with our community and to acknowledge where we were, what we were feeling, and what we could do about it. The panel discussion focused on our personal and communal well-being and how we can use our business and leadership acumen to have productive, forward-looking interactions at this moment and in the years to come.

Panelists included:

Below are the remarks I shared at the top of the panel.

Hello to everyone who joined us, and thank you for taking time out of your evening on this Election Day. Right now, with the election, the pandemic, and all the other surprises that 2020 has brought our way, it goes without saying that we are, collectively, facing tremendous uncertainty.

And, I think perhaps more than anything, we wanted to take a moment today to get together with our community and acknowledge where we are, what we’re feeling, and what we can do about it.

In a minute, you’ll be asked to share some thoughts with our panel about how you’re feeling. We want you to let us know what’s on your mind so that we can meet you where you are tonight.

But, by now, it’s probably safe to assume that you are likely all feeling the effects of months of uncertainty. For some of you, it may feel more like years. Whether you are stressed out, not sleeping, sick to your stomach, feeling demotivated…trust me, I can relate to all of that. You are not alone.

But what I hold on to is this: the idea that commerce has always been about the exchange of goods, services, and ideas to strengthen and advance societies.

Think about that. When everything we know is upended, commerce continues, and it has the potential to be a very stabilizing force that can move a society forward.

My parents were both first-generation college students who came of age in the middle of the civil rights movement in the U.S. And, do you know how they lifted themselves out of poverty? Business. They started a successful trash company, and their success had a ripple effect that reached across multiple generations of my extended family, helping to elevate everyone – opening doors, changing futures.

Because so much of our lives occur through the conduit of commerce, I believe a commerce degree can provide you with opportunities to make a significant, far reaching impact on the lives of others. As students in this school, you will soon be shaping decisions and leading teams and projects in large and small organizations, and we want you to consider the magnitude of that. Not 10 or 20 years from now, one or two years from now.

It may not always feel like it, but you are learning how to make constructive contributions to society. Maybe you’re learning the nuances of how to have hard conversations with clients, or when to let data shine light on the truth, or how the most important thing you can do when you’re on a team is listen. You are learning how to navigate rough spots, how to use critical thinking to inform decisions, and perhaps above all, how to work with people – even when you can’t find common ground.

So often we talk about a business degree as a pathway TO something or somewhere…but stop for a minute and consider, what if commerce is the path through?

It is very likely the experiences we are all going through currently will have lasting effects that could go on for years, well after you’ve graduated and started working. Yet, it’s important that you know how powerful a foundation in commerce can be for promoting and effecting change.

 

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