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Student Perspective Maura Sullivan (NI)

President Faust, Dean Light, Deans from across Harvard University, Distinguished Faculty, Administration and Staff, Celebrated Alumni, welcomed guests, and fellow students, it is an honor to be speaking to you today on this exciting occasion of the Centennial Celebration of the founding of Harvard Business School. My name is Maura Sullivan and I am a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps and a very proud member of the HBS Class of 2009, Section I.

At a similar celebration in 1963 commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the founding of Vanderbilt University, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a body of students and talked about “the responsibility of the educated citizen.” He offered that all must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position. “For those to whom much is given, much is required.”

45 years later, on the occasion of your 100th birthday, my wish for you, HBS, is that you continue to educate leaders who make a difference in the world by questioning not what they can get from this world, but rather what they can give to it as a result of having attended Harvard Business School.

Many of you know of Avi Kremer, a native of Israel and a member of Section I, Class of 2006. Avi was in his first semester of HBS when he was diagnosed with ALS- a rare neurodegenerative disorder for which there is currently no cure. Avi’s career aspirations were cut short yet instead of backing down in retreat, Avi counted his blessings and thought not of himself, but of others. Avi mobilized and inspired the HBS community, and together with his sectionmates, raised over $100,000 and founded Prize for Life- to raise funds towards a cure. In his own words, Avi describes his decision: He said, “I have found that there is endless goodness in the human heart. That people who only yesterday were strangers to me will become my brothers and sisters in the darkest of times. That hope is stronger than fear. That love can overcome despair. By helping to find a cure for ALS we can all make a difference for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Section I class was home to Ann Gildroy, who became a close friend and mentor to me through our shared Marine Corps experience. Ann began her first year at HBS just one week after she concluded a year-long tour in Iraq as a Marine Corps Lieutenant. She was described to me as “fearless,” by a peer. And after a successful summer internship on Wall Street, Ann made plans for a career in financial services but put them on hold when asked to rejoin her team in Iraq for a second year-long tour. I recall Ann’s words to me as I bid her farewell: “I can do this Maura,” she spoke. “There are people leaving their children behind to go-and for me, this is just one year of my life. It is such a small sacrifice compared with that which others are making.” Ann bid farewell to her sectionmates and departed HBS three weeks before graduation, not because it was easy-but because she believed she was making a difference.

At some point in our lives, we will all encounter our own unique opportunities to make an impact on the world. What will we do when this opportunity arises? Will we lead a clean water initiative in India via corporate social responsibility? Will we roll out a fleet of hybrid cars in our direct store delivery supply chain? Will we provide life-saving drugs to developing nations who cannot afford to do so on their own? Will we donate to, or affiliate with, or RUN a non-profit organization? Will we leave this world better for our existence?

My birthday wish for you, HBS, is that your graduates continue to lead more than they manage, listen more than they talk, inspire more than they order, and give more than they take. For the opportunity to do so is both the greatest privilege and responsibility that this great institution has provided us.

Happy Birthday, HBS. It’s been a fantastic 100 years.

April 7, 2008
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