A commencement speech that went missing in the action

by Raša Karapandža

Dear Students,

Couple of months ago it was decided that I should give a speech at the graduation ceremony. In the mean time the leadership of the school got replaced and my speech somehow got lost in the translation. At the end I was officially told that due to these changes in the leadership of the EBS, the teams that organised the event changed too and somehow my speech was lost and not planned well in advance – there was no room in the program for a five minute speech.

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The speech was very similar to the text that I was invited by my students to write and have written for their yearbook. With an important difference that I was planning to make some jokes that would have been inappropriate in the written form. Let me use this speech as a first entry in my blog that I will hopefully continue to write on a regular basis. I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Dear Students, overly-excited Parents and annoying little Brothers and Sisters (it is politically correct to say this,  since I am one of those annoying little ones),

I was very nervous about what I would say here, and then I began to think back to my own graduation from a university 11 years ago. And I have realized that I have absolutely no memory of actually graduating from my university. I mean, I know I did, but I definitely couldn’t tell you what were the commencement speeches in my graduation ceremony. And it’s not just that I don’t remember what was said there, I don’t even remember who said it. After listening to this you’re going to wake up tomorrow. In your own bed, or someone else’s if you are lucky, and this text will be a blur.  So I am not nervous anymore because of you. You are not going to remember a thing I said here. What actually makes me nervous is that your parents will remember and they are the ones that want to enjoy every second of it – though, I guess, some of them are already not thrilled with the “someone else’s bed” sentence.

In speeches of this kind, it is common to give advice. I know this because for weeks now I have been online reading other people’s yearbooks and listening commencement speeches, basically looking to steal ideas. But yesterday, I ran into some students from your class, and after talking to them, and listening to them, I realized that I do not need to steal ideas. The truth is your class has taught me a lesson.

When 17 years old, in 1995, I created what was probably the first computer virus that was able to spread throughout the Internet and took down the web site of the New York Times. When interviewed by the NYT my defense was: “The Internet is a dehumanizing addiction and the greatest single threat to human civilization. … So it is my mission in life, to save the world from the Internet.” Today, it is clear that I have fought the Internet, but the Internet won.

I have often had unrealistic goals in my life – like the one of saving the world from the Internet. Changing the universe was the most ambitious one. That one led me to graduate with a degree in Astrophysics. It did not work. The universe was one tough cookie. Then I started to dream of creating the best model of stock returns and predicting the next big bust or a boom… – The dream I still do have. Teaching finance class was never a dream of mine. It was more of a thing that I had to do. But when I saw students eager to learn I have decided to give my best, in spite of the fact that teaching was a distraction that was keeping me away from my dreams.

But now, even if I fail in fulfilling my dreams – no matter how unrealistic they are, I will have this satisfaction that I have done my best in helping at least some of you in learning and becoming better people. Therefore, the lesson that I heave learned by working with you, the one that I would like you to remember, is: It is totally OK to have unrealistic or realistic, selfish or unselfish, crazy or smart … actually any kind of dreams and goals as long as you do good things on the way. You will also fail, and you will do so many times in your life, but if you do good things while you are failing you will be happy.

I will wrap up by saying that I do hope that, if you have not already, you will look your parents in their eyes and thank them for their sacrifices and love. Of course, to do that you’d need to put down your precious iPhones first. Then, your moms and dads will cry – tears of joy. Some of them will do so because tuition payments end but most of them will cry because of their love for you. After the emotional meltdown, you and your parents should be filled with proud, no matter how well you did during your studies. If you look at your grades and they do not make sense, let me apologize in the name of all professors. Ranking sometimes makes little sense. Your challenge as future managers, bankers, entrepreneurs, professors, …. is to figure out how to minimize the meaning of those numbers and continue learning in spite of how high or low they are. So be proud, you have achieved what less than 7% of the world’s population did! You have graduated!

Congratulations to you all, you have deserved it!

Your finance profesor Frodo, I mean Raša