Final Friday Speech: (Chris Merriewether WG18)

“Merriewether, what the hell is going on…” said my college basketball coach at Kansas State during my sophomore year as I sat in his office…eyes locked.

“You are either on drugs, your girlfriend is pregnant, or someone back home is dying…” still not sure why those were the only 3 options.

None of those things were true but I couldn’t tell him my mom was having heart surgery, my dad lost his job and finances were tight, and my girlfriend was cheating on me.  

Before replying to him, I sat perplexed, wondering how I had let myself go- in the classroom and on the basketball court. I was no longer engaged in my classes and the game I loved my whole life just wasn’t as important as it once was. In all aspects of my life I was simply showing up, but not present.  

He told me at that point- at that crossroads, that I have to Earn the Right… to be here, to play, to study, to provide a better future for my family.  

EARN THE RIGHT…that became my mantra… through 4 years of college basketball, 6 years of working in corporate finance, and many triumphs and failures in between… I never forgot it.

To my fellow graduates, we have spent our lives earning the right.  

My wish for us all is that we realize, truly realize that we have earned the right.  

We spend so much time trying to be better, earn more credentials, add more zeros to our bank account, that we forget that we each have a secret sauce that was created during crucible moments of our lives.    

We have the right to:

  • Love
  • Serve others
  • Not know the answer
  • Take personal time off
  • Start that business
  • Actively listen
  • Disagree
  • Share ideas
  • Show empathy
  • Come out
  • Stand up
  • Be happy or sad
  • Live your best life
  • And be yourself

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2018.  We have all left a stamp on The Wharton School and each other. We came together as strangers and now we are leaving as friends, fiancés, exs, and less random LinkedIn connects. Most importantly though, we have earned the right to be a part of the same family. One Wharton. One Family.  

Special congrats to the top and bottom 10% of the class, thanks to Grade non-disclosure, no one else will ever know the difference.

One final thing before I go, this graduation weekend is all about remembering the past two years and getting people excited to walk across that stage to whatever is next.  Think back to the best times you had here?… Some of them you won’t remember all the details or conversation points, but I would bet that the really meaningful interactions… you likely connected…. And you likely remember how someone or some situation made you feel.  

Many of you brought your full self to Wharton, some waited to bring their full self to Wharton once the coast was clear… Let’s remember to bring what we experienced here at Wharton to the spaces, businesses, and nonprofits we occupy and the lives we lead going forward.  You have earned the right to do that. Otherwise, what was all of this for?

Earn the right!

Cheers my friends.