Farewell to the Class of 2011

Alex Edmans

Alex Edmans

It’s with happiness that the Journal has given me this chance to address you, but also with sadness that I bid you farewell.  I had the honor of addressing many of you during Welcome Weekend in April 2009.  Since then, I’ve watched you explore, grow and discover, and some of you have become my personal friends.  And I’m sure that you have mixed feelings too – melancholy that your time at this fantastic institution, surrounded every day by incredible people, will finally be at an end – but also excitement that you’re now able to take what you learned here and apply it to the real world.

When I met you as you started this journey two years ago, I was impressed by your diversity.  I know that this word is often clichéd and hackneyed, but it is a genuine description of your class.  You hailed from Russia, from Thailand, from Mexico.  You were bankers, army officers, Peace Corps volunteers.  You all had different ideas of what you wanted to do.  I want a hedge fund job, I want to be a club President, I want an MRS degree.  The operative noun was I.

But then, you met each other back in pre-term – in the classrooms, in the Catskills, at Cavanaughs.  And suddenly, somewhere, each of you had a moment when you realized that you were part of a community.  There was a moment when I became we, when a group of individuals became a learning team, and when learning teams became a cohort.  You realized that, as different as your backgrounds were, you were with your kin.  Because even though, superficially, you had nothing in common, and even though you sought to get different things out of your time at Wharton, you shared a common ethos.  You all came to Wharton to grow, and to help others grow.  You all came to push yourselves outside your comfort zone, to take a shot, give it a go, test it out, go the distance, run that extra mile.

You were no longer bankers, officers, volunteers, Russians, Thais, Mexicans.  You became leadership fellows, teaching assistants, Conference Co-Chairs.  Wharthogs, Wildebeests, Wildmen.  Colleagues, companions, friends.  And you shared some very special times together.

Together, you went on an intellectual journey as learning teams – plowing through the Sabre project late at night, or pricing a complex financial derivative.  Together, you traveled to the corners of the earth – to Japan, downing bottles of Sake and singing “Train Train” at an enkai party, or to Antarctica with only each other’s company in a place with no other humans around.  Together you faced tough challenges – wallowing through the Quantico mud, stepping into a boxing ring to raise money for the Boys and Girls’ Clubs of Philadelphia, or getting up on stage and performing in WICS, Dance Studio, or Comedy Club.

I’d like to draw three themes from your time here, to highlight what you’ve learned and how you’ve developed, but also what you can take to your future lives.  These three themes are: selflessness, courage, and enterprise.  And of course, they’re intertwined to some degree.

You were selfless throughout adversity.  Wharton is a fun and exciting place, but it hasn’t all been sunshine.  Some of you might be walking out into the world with a degree from Wharton, but no full-time job – a reality which none of you dreamed when you left your jobs 2 years ago.  During your time at Wharton, as the economy still struggled to recover, one might have expected that you would first look out for yourselves.  But instead, you chose to help each other.  You made time to have dinner with a disappointed classmate, who needed someone to talk to.  You shared your knowledge about the industries you worked in before school, helping to write cover letters and giving mock interviews.  You put your reputation on the line to recommend a classmate to a former colleague.

Second, you were courageous.  You knew that recruitment was difficult, and there was a huge temptation to stick to the courses and activities you knew to maximize your chances of Director’s List or being a club officer.  Yet, you were never afraid to push yourself outside your comfort zone and try something new – even though it risked failure.  Some of you wowed your friends in Follies despite never having stepped on stage before, won the Wharton Public Speaking competition even though you had never tried this activity before, or are launching start-ups that actually make something rather than taking safe jobs in banking or consulting.  Students for whom running a couple of miles was a challenge found themselves summiting Cotopaxi, trekking in Patagonia, and enduring the Atacama desert.

Third, you were enterprising.  When you saw room for improvement, rather than complaining, you put in hours of your time to fix it.  You launched the inaugural Iron Prof competition to learn more about faculty research, and the First Year Honors Reception to recognize academic excellence.  You created the Martial Arts Club, Mountaineering Club, Art and Design in Business Club, Rendezvous, and the JD/MBA Student Association.

But I don’t want to just look back on the past, but to provide some takeaways for the future.  On Sunday, you’ll have Commencement.  It’s the end of your time as a Wharton student.  But, the word Commencement does not mean an end.  The word Commencement means a beginning.  Commencement is the start of the rest of your lives as Wharton MBAs, as you go out into the world as ambassadors of our Wharton brand, and take what you learned here – both inside and outside the classroom – to make the world a better place.

You can actually keep your Wharton experience going for the rest of your life.  The metamorphosis that you experienced here doesn’t stop when you leave.  The opportunities to develop yourself, and help others develop, will be harder to come by in the future – they won’t be “on tap” as they are here – but they’ll definitely exist; you’ll just have to seek them out.  What made your time here so special wasn’t so much the institution, the facilities, even the faculty – things that you’ll leave behind – but you – your qualities of selflessness, courage and enterprise.  This is why I know that you can keep this going in the future and create mini-Whartons wherever you end up.

Back in April 2009, I asked you to look around Annenberg and remember the empty seats.  We could have filled each one of those empty seats several times over if we wanted to – we get thousands of exceptional applications each year.  But we didn’t.  We chose to fill these seats with you.  You had opportunities that thousands of people wanted, but didn’t get.  And you made full use of these opportunities in your two years here.  It’s your responsibility to make sure that what you learned here stays with you, and does not fade.  In your future lives, you will meet many people who were not lucky enough to experience Wharton first-hand.  Bring the ethos of Wharton – selflessness, courage and enterprise, to them.  But, also remember those who did fill those seats.  Keep in touch with and maintain your bonds with your classmates, who walked beside you on this journey.

After Sunday, you’ll no longer be at Wharton.  But, the skills that you learned, the experiences you shared, and your membership of the Wharton community, will last forever.  And when you see each other again, be it on the streets of New York, Sao Paolo or Beijing, and share a smile or a nod or a handshake, you will look around at those passing, and they will not share what you share, or know what you know, because they were not with you in the Wharton MBA Class of 2011.

You can only be a Wharton MBA candidate for two years, but you’ll be a Wharton MBA for life.

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