2009 Commencement Speech-Luis Alberto Moreno

May 26, 2009 graduation_2009_03

Dean George Daly and President John DeGioia present Luis Moreno with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Thank you, President DeGioia, Dean Daly, members of the faculty, graduating class. As I come up here, I am reminded by my daughter and my son who typically like to kid with their friends that I look like Harry Potter, and I certainly don't look here a lot like a banker, but as I was putting this garb on, and just walking up here, it really gave me that impression again, and it reminded me that Harry Potter has a lot of tricks down his bag and I don't, so I'll try my best.

Let me begin by saying that when I was asked to give this commencement speech, I was truly excited. This is a time you'll always go back to, this very moment that you are living today, and think back of your life and your experiences, and it's therefore why it's an honor to speak to all of you, and it makes me wonder what I could possibly speak to those of you who have spent four wonderful years to come to this moment.

You've spent these years in lecture halls among some of the greatest scholars and engaged in conversation with some of the most interesting, and intellectual, student bodies in the world. You all should truly feel privileged and blessed to have had such a great institution to call your second home and such an amazing group of people that you have met along the way. These experiences will shape the rest of your life as you move into adulthood. I certainly know in my case it did.

You have come here from all corners of the world and will now go your own separate ways, but the wonder of an institution like Georgetown will bind you long after you have left here today. Georgetown's spirit is blue, is grey, and is Hoya. It is colorful and plentiful memories that will give you that lasting sense of belonging, of being bound to this place, to your class, and to all the others who come before you, and will come long after you; cherish that bond as part of your core being.

For me it is also a moment of emotion to receive this Doctorate Honoris Causa from Georgetown University. This institution has understood from its very beginning that its very role was to deliver the best instruction and education a person can find. Receiving this honorary degree represents for me a commitment toward this community for honoring the noble values that characterize this university.

2009 may not seem like the best of years to be graduating with a bachelor's degree in business, but I would suggest that this is in fact an exciting time to be launching your careers.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, Kellogg made a risky bid. It doubled its advertisement budget to promote its newest cereal, what many of us had in our upgoing years, Rice Krispies. In 1933 when the crisis was hitting hard, Kellogg did not only rise its profit by 30 percent, they also became the industry dominant brand, a position they still hold today. In the same fashion Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933, and Texas Instruments brought about the transistor radio in the 1954 recession, and Apple computer launched the iPod in the midst of the "dot com" crisis of 2001.

So don't let the bad times tell you that you are not capable. You in fact can, and will, change the way this country works. No challenge is too big for you. Believe in your spirit, believe in your talent, believe in your accomplishments, and in your desire to make a difference. Certainly Georgetown and all of us who are here today believe that.

We've already witnessed such a remarkable year. And yes, markets may be down, jobs maybe harder to come by, that's true, but there is also a sense of opportunity in the world today -- an urge to go back to basics, to embrace what matters, after a period of unsustainable excesses. Economic crises are painful, and I by no means want to minimize that, but there is also a great deal and need of necessary soul-searching and even some important innovation that takes place in these difficult times.

In this very city, as in other capitals around the world, this is a time of energetic questioning of long-held assumptions, as governments rethink how best to regulate markets and to protect the welfare of their citizens. Too often these debates are framed as ideological splits on the proper size of government in market economies, but the proper debate is not how big a government should be in these times -- that almost feels like a 20th-century debate. The proper debate is how smart a government should be in these times of astonishing complexity.

We need to come to terms with the greater complexities in the marketplace, and ensure that public regulators, and even the business people making these bets, fully understand the risks involved, not only to themselves, but to their society as a whole. In recent years we became too complacent about the extent to which the public could be harmed by private risk-taking in the financial sector. After economic bubbles pop, we need to hit the "reset" button and get back to basics.

I'm a banker, and I could devote an entire speech on the importance of a healthy banking sector, and I appreciate and applaud that some of you will go on to have productive careers in the financial sector, in a very different one, doing necessary and important work that you can be proud of. Being proud of what you do is the only thing that will ever make you feel satisfied with your careers, and there are many things I have done that I was not happy with, but I was proud I did them, and I was even prouder that I didn't quit.

I bet none of you could ever guess what my first job was. It wasn't at a bank, nor was a busboy. And unfortunately J.K. Rowling hadn't even written her first book to help me out a bit. I actually sold vacuum cleaners, door to door, in one of South Florida's most terrible neighborhoods.

You will all know in due time where and what you want to be, or at least who you want to try to become. I certainly haven't completely figured it out, and I think that is a choice I made a while ago -- to never really know who or what I wanted to be, and let life and randomness choose for you. If you don't know exactly where or what you will be 5, 10, or 20 years from now, rest assured that it's OK not to know.

I had a brain tumor that almost killed me at age 16. I nearly lost my sight and my other senses have never been quite the same, but my brain continued to work and I promised myself that I would never let it go without use, always trying to learn, always being curious, experience and challenge what I think. I have made that traumatic experience mean more than just that. It undoubtedly gave me a sense of purpose and determination.

Your first steps into the real world, those first jobs, make such a lasting impression on the path that will be the rest of your life that you should take every challenge, every seemingly irrational pay, every unconventional job, for it too will make sense at the end. Just like your steps towards Georgetown were composed of many small tiny choices, you have all made it to this big day.

In this fast-changing society and economy of our times, flexibility and a nimble disposition are essential. If anyone here has a 20-year-plan or even a 10-year plan for how your life will unfold, we will be collecting those from you at the end of the ceremony, in recycling bins, of course.

So don't cheat yourselves. The days when you could count on a lifetime commitment to one organization or even one line of work may be coming to an end, and that is not something bright young people like yourselves need mourn. You will have a range of experiences and satisfactions that people in more rigid times couldn't imagine. You cannot foresee how you will grow and what opportunities will come your way. I appreciate the impulse to be prepared and to plan for the future, but always leave room for improvisation and serendipity. Be open to reinvention, and unexpected opportunities. Let life surprise you at times, and don't always stay in your comfort zone.

I went from living in Colombia to today living on a plane travelling every other day to new countries, new cultures, and new experiences. I can't promise you that every surprise is a good one, but it is nonetheless important, and certainly, educational.

So the world is ever changing, as will be your opportunities, but the constant will remain what is inside of you, what you learned here, and the imperative of being one -- one with yourself and with the world around you. Be guided by your integrity, a wonderful word that encompasses two separate, but mutually-reinforcing, concepts. To act with integrity means to act in an honest and principled manner; that is one definition. But integrity also means to be whole, undivided, as in the mathematical concept of integral numbers. It means to be one whole.

As graduates of a university as interested in nurturing your ethical outlook, as it is interested in nurturing your minds, this is a very powerful notion. When we compartmentalize who we are, that is when we get in trouble. When you are the CEO of a company, always remain also the parent of your children, the Georgetown alum, the son or daughter of your parents, and so on. We sometimes wonder how an executive who is a conscientious parent, or churchgoer, or sports referee, or Boy Scout leader could engage in questionable ethical behavior on the job, but these are invariably the results of internal compartmentalization.

There is a wonderful admonition in the Victorian English novel "Howard's End" by E.M. Forster: "Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." I cannot think of a better motto for life -- "only connect" -- or better advice than "to live in fragments no longer." Again, the notion of being integral.

The larger world cannot be fragmented nor compartmentalized either. Every decision you make as a corporate executive, a government official, or even as a consumer in the grocery store has repercussions around the globe. And every aspect of your life is connected to that broader world.

Globalization was not a byproduct of bullish markets; it's a reality that is here with us to stay. Because we live in this era of globalization we are also global citizens, and must act as such. I don't need to tell you that we live in a world of fragile interdependence. I admire the activism of many students today, which is predicated on the idea that local actions have global impact. And so you have students debating whether their institutions should invest in companies in Sudan, or whether there are enough labor safeguards involved in the production of their school sweatshirts across the globe. When I went to college, my actions in Florida hardly affected those of the neighborhood.

Students are more apt to worry about how their individual choices impact the environment -- and in this regard I think the younger generations have a heightened sensitivity -- and there are some wrenching decisions we as individuals and as a society must confront in this arena.

How do we balance concerns about increased trade's carbon footprint with our understanding that trade in agriculture offers the most immediate escape from poverty for many farmers around the world? Or how do we balance our desire for alternative energy sources with the danger that some of these alternative biofuels could displace needed food supplies in some parts of the world by diverting agriculture into the energy sector? These are some of the challenges those of us in the development world wrestle everyday with, and sometimes there are no easy answers. The Inter-American Development Bank, which I have the privilege to lead, turns 50 this year, but the challenges before us keep changing.

If you get to a point in some countries where you are satisfied with the number of primary schools, then you shift gears and worry about the quality of education in those very same schools. When we see steady growth in the last five years across Latin America and the Caribbean, we have now to recommit ourselves to addressing glaring inequalities in our societies, which become less acceptable with rising prosperity.

What's true is that we are in interconnected in ways that we haven't been before, in a world that is more "horizontal," or flat, than ever before. Who knew that a real estate implosion in Arizona could close nurseries in Norway, or that the savings of Chinese workers could finance the overconsumption of U.S. consumers. A couple of university students who launch "Facebook" have as much influence on our popular culture and behavior as do corporate media titans.

Similarly, countries like India and Brazil play a far more important role in an increasingly multipolar world. We no longer live in a world in which a few countries can dictate the rules of the game to the rest of the world. But that is not the same as saying the United States is a spent force, a nation whose best days are behind it. This country will continue to exert global leadership for the foreseeable future and will continue to be a magnet of great innovation that benefits all of mankind. That will continue being true so long as great American universities like Georgetown continue being beacons of hope, moral courage, and ingenuity, welcoming restless minds from all over the world.

Simon Bolivar, our liberator, said "good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment." Don't be scared of bad experiences. Learn from them. Don't be scared of challenges, take them on. Be optimistic, but more important, enjoy the ride.

Congratulations to the class of 2009.