It must be a special weekend for everyone. For some, the MBA is a natural career transition; for some, a life-long goal; for some, a milestone. For me, it has been a dream. Two dreams I should say. The first is obvious, and it belongs to me: I’m graduating from the best business school in the world, the best in each of its facets: the experiences, the interactions, the immersions…and the people.
The second dream is mine, too—but in truth, it belongs to my parents. Their education ended before they finished high school. My dad walked to middle school barefoot, because his family did not have the money to buy him shoes. And like many of your parents, mine resolved to give us the lives they did not, and could not, have.
Their aspirations lived in me then, and they live in me now. So for a Muslim woman who grew up in the countryside of Southern Lebanon, to stand here — accent and all — and address 800 of the smartest people in the world is a dream come true. For my family, and for me.
And with this dream comes a renewed sense of citizenship: of being a member of an inclusive community.
Many of us have lived in different countries, interacted with different cultures, and learned to speak different languages. In the past two years, some have checked into more flights than classes. We have strived to be citizens of the world.
But exploring the world is not what made this experience special. Instead, Wharton has been the rare chance to join a social experiment, confined to a few blocks near Rittenhouse Square—with over a thousand lives, upbringings, and sets of values and aspirations, converging into a community.
Not until we heard the split-second decisions of an F16 pilot in a war zone, or the hardship of a childhood in the Cape Town slums—until we empathized with a years-long battle against brain cancer, or a steep mountain hike of a mother who is still pumping milk, did we really become citizens of this community.
We did not choose the conditions into which we were born. But today, we leave here in a position of privilege. We will walk into rooms where our voices are heard and our decisions have weight. We will have the power to shape and influence the direction of others—of individuals, groups, communities, and possibly even nations.
However, this time we will have a choice. Rather, a responsibility. A responsibility to go from citizens, to ambassadors, of the values of inclusion.
A responsibility to remember this moment, and the experiences that brought us together as a class—but also to remember the anxious time, two years ago, when all of us were strangers to one another.
A responsibility to recognize that community comes from focusing on commonality, not difference. From prioritizing introspection, not projection. From capitalizing on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses. From recognizing, and bridging, the distance between ourselves and those whose voices are not as loud as yours or mine.
A responsibility to remember, that we all have a parent, or grandparent, or great grandparent, born a generation or two too soon. Whose skin was the wrong color, or who spoke the wrong language, or worshipped the wrong god. Who struggled. Who gave of themselves, hoping—not knowing—that someday, we would sit in a place like this. That we would have the opportunity to do, and be, better than what they had.