The Gravity of Graduation

I graduated this week from Harvard Business School.

This is the first time and probably the last time I will say that out loud.

It simply doesn’t mean that much to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that my degree is meaningless, or that it means little to my classmates and their families and friends who have endearingly supported them in this journey. Many of my classmates have traveled far and overcome lots to get their diploma in the torrential rain of Boston’s June this past Thursday. Congratulations to you and thank you for the honor of getting to know you over the last 2 years. I hope we stay in touch.

Like many, I hoped HBS wasn’t the best, or the most meaningful accomplishment of my life. Partly because I thought it was harder to get in than to graduate (then, congratulations to you Class of 2019!) . Partly because the degree represents promise, not capability. Or, phrased a different way, possible, but not proven capability.

There is so much work to be done. As a generation, we face a tremendous and widening wealth gap that challenges our fundamental values about doing well, the American dream and what it means to provide comfortably for our families. Not only truck-driving, but our own white-collar jobs are not safe from automation. Seaports worldwide face real threats of being underwater by 2100, which means our children and grandchildren. We are witnessing a ‘meritocracy’ that operates on the assumption that all pre-school kids hear the same number of words growing up (and not a 30-million-word difference).

The day before I graduated, I took the MBA Oath, pledging my career to create value responsibly. The ceremony was casual in rituals and solemn in spirit. I was proud to see a third of my class taking the Oath, including many I wished I had gotten to know. But you lost me at the question why it wasn’t 100%, or 50% of the class, as it was when the Oath was created in 2009.

My professor Joseph Fuller once said, “Loving one’s work is a function of doing something that’s meaningful to you, not a reason for it. The cost of something is how much of your life you have to exchange for it. Beware trading big swaths of time — the only variable in your career that’s entirely outside your control — to do work that doesn’t meet that standard.”

For I only have 19300 days left, I’m gonna get back to work now.

Mom, Dad, Liem, this one is for you.