Advice for Graduates & Leaders Alike

The following is adapted from Jena McGregor’s article in the Washington Post on May 27, 2018 – The Best Career Advice From This Year’s Graduation Speeches

Oprah Winfrey, to the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California

Winfrey offered clear advice for graduates regarding the workplace. “Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do, that your talent cannot be dismissed.” She also encouraged graduates to do what they loved because “your job is not always going to fulfill you.” Even on those days “you may not feel like going to work at all – go anyway, and remember that your job is not who you are. It’s just what you are doing on the way to who you will become.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School

Ulukaya's spoke about the growing societal expectation that CEOs speak up on social issues, stressing that “the center of gravity for social change has moved to the private sector,” with the business world and their leaders best positioned to lead the way. He also cautioned business school grads, “Don’t let it (your MBA) get in the way of seeing people as people and all they have to offer you, regardless of their title or position.” 

Abby Wambach, retired professional soccer player to Barnard College

Describing rules she used in leading a team, Wambach encouraged graduates to be energized by failure, support people from the sidelines and champion the power of the team.  However, she also spoke of the importance of knowing when “demand the ball,” and step into a leadership role – whether a formal or informal role – and take charge rather than playing a supporting role.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America and former State Department director of policy planning to Washington University in St. Louis. 

Slaughter encouraged graduates to look for opportunities in their “home towns, state capitals or bustling regional cities” where they can make positive change. For aspiring entrepreneurs, go to “where the real estate is cheap and the community is strong, where new tech sectors are springing up by reinventing traditional businesses from manufacturing to media.”  For aspiring architects, “go renovate your home town’s downtown, putting beautiful old buildings to new uses.”  Aspiring journalists, “go reweave the fabric of local civic life by creating or joining new models of producing local news.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” to the University of Southern California

By far my favorite, Mukherjee's beautifully written keynote speech was focused on listening. This task of a “uniquely human capacity” and takes three forms — being empathetic with others, listening to the past and listening to nature, “eavesdropping on the universe, learning its natural laws, its geometries, its rhythms, its constancies, its mind.”  His powerful message warned that 

“It is impossible to ignore that we have stopped listening to each other. Or, for that matter, that we have stopped listening to natural laws,” he said. “The word 'listen' can be rearranged into 'silent,' – the absolute prerequisite of listening,” 

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