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Class Day Speech of Jeff Norton

First, I want to thank our wonderful host today. Second, I really want to thank the panel of judges of who put so much faith in me to bring me to this 2nd round: Randy, Simon, and of course Paula Abdul. Thank you for believing in me! That’s right; American Idol auditions are next week. Today, is Class Day speech auditions.

I have been I reflecting on what exactly we’ve been doing for the past two years. And what I’ve come up with is this: we have been practicing.

We have been practicing the art and science of leadership. Through the case method, and cold call, and study groups, we’ve been building our potential energy. In physics terms, Potential energy is energy waiting to be released. It’s pent up. It’s anticipating use. It’s like the rock in the slingshot, pulled back…waiting. And kinetic energy is the energy that is eventually actually released. And at graduation, we will be like 900 slingshots ready for release. Each of us needs to decide how to channel our kinetic energy.

But first, it would helpful to have a job. Career Services has been so proactive in this tough economy, especially with offering useful career advice: I believe it was Matt Merrick, or was it Marshall Mathers, who said, “You’ve got one shot, do not lose your chance at opportunity.” Good Advice.

Building our potential and looking for jobs has been a lot of work….but, it’s been a lot of fun too. This, after all, is the sleepaway camp of capitalism.

I loved the whole experience of section life: the auctions, the sky decks, and those little games that the professors will never know about. And second year has been even better. We’ve attended trips, treks, and fancy balls. And we just saw the amazing HBS show, Network Effect, put on by a team of our classmates!

And, we have doing a lot of Networking. Now around here, networking sometimes gets a bad rap. After all, isn’t networking is what you do when your dream job is not job bank. Or isn’t it shamelessly pit diving a visiting CEO, making “acquaintance”, or spamming the alumni database.

Who among us hasn’t sent an email to a President or CEO in the alumni database? Just this morning I found an email laying around the computer lab:

Dear Mr. President –
I am a second year student at HBS and I am very interested in pursuing the same career as you. May I call the Oval Office set up an informational interview?
Sincerely…

…. I won’t tell you who wrote that. But, it’s great to have that kind of networking opportunity.
While that’s one view on networking, for me, networking is something different. Networking about reaching out and making a genuine connection with a new person. Through networking, I have made some of my closest friends, people who share the same interests and passions.

Through networking I was introduced to wonderful woman and fallen in love. And through networking I have met many amazing people in the class of 2003.

But whatever your view of networking is, a network is so much more than that. A network is an invisible web that binds us all together. And for the past two years, we have been creating a network. Think about it, it’s amazing how small the world feels at HBS. It’s like one degree of separation: everybody knows everybody. And yet we have over 100 countries represented in our graduating class.

Here on our pristine campus, the world feels like a pretty small place.

But when I leave our little bubble or turn on the news, suddenly, the world doesn’t feel so small. The world feels big, confusing, and awfully frightening. This is a relatively new feeling; for it was only during our Foundations that we stood together, here, the day the world changed.

What if we could make the rest of world feel just as small as HBS. Now, I’m not talking about making the world homogenous, or Americanized, just smaller. More like the aspects of HBS that we love: a multicultural community where it feels like everyone is only one degree of separation away.

I believe that it is much easier to understand somebody, understand their culture, and their hopes and dreams when you are in the same network. It’s a lot harder to hate or be suspicious of someone when you are in the same network.

When we all sit together on Class Day maybe this is one way to channel our kinetic energy, and one way to use those networking skills we have been honing; to build a network so broad, so interconnected that it literally shrinks the world.

And if we do that, I believe we can start to make the world a smaller place.

June 2, 2003
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