At this spring’s Broad College undergraduate commencement ceremony, alumnus Manoj Saxena (MBA Marketing ’91) encouraged Broad graduates to find meaning in their work and to go forth boldly to make their mark in the world.
Saxena, general manager of IBM Watson Solutions and two-time entrepreneur, was the featured speaker at the ceremony held May 4 in the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Nearly 1,000 students graduated from the college—joining a strong network of more than 70,000 Broad alumni around the world.
Following is the text of Saxena’s inspiring speech:
Thank you Dean Lenway, members of the platform party, graduates of the class of 2013, and your families and friends.
It is a tremendous honor and a privilege for me to be here at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world.
I am delighted to be back to this special place that brings back so many fond memories and has changed the trajectory of my life and continues to influence me in what I do today.
My father used to say, “an ungrateful life is a wasted life,” and I am very grateful to MSU for the key role it has played in my life and continues to do so today. I am also grateful for you inviting me to be a part of such a significant day in your life.
Today is a day of celebration, a day to celebrate all the hard work that got you to this place where you can sit. For this, I want to congratulate not only you, the graduates, but also your teachers, parents, friends, and families who have brought you to this special moment in your life.
When I was first asked to give this commencement speech, I felt both a deep sense of honor and some trepidation. It was because I don’t think of myself as old enough to have any real wisdom to impart on such an august occasion. As they say, “inside every 48 year old is an 18 year old wondering what the heck just happened?”
So bearing all that in mind, I’ll share some personal discoveries with you that have at least served me well. Discoveries based on this most amazing journey that I have been on. I will share three of them to be precise.
First, “Your focus determines your reality”
Twenty-two years after my own graduation, I have come to understand that “your focus determines your reality” is not just a cool line from George Lucas’ Star Wars, but is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea:
It is the idea that it is ultimately YOU and what you choose to focus on that changes the way you manifest and find your place in this world.
What you can conceive in your mind, believe in your heart, you WILL manifest with your efforts!
Once you conceive, it is all about effort and about having the courage to fail and to quickly recover from it.
Nothing is impossible! Impossible just takes a little more effort and tenacity.
So become aware now, of what you are thinking about, as you enter this next stage of your life.
As an avid racer, I can tell you that every racer knows that no race has ever been won in the first corner; but many have been lost there.
So think about how you are starting this race and set yourself up for the right trajectory in life as you approach this first turn of your life.
Second, “Be bold and don’t be a sheeple”
Don’t be a follower, or as my older daughter calls it, don’t be a “sheeple.”
Believe in yourself and chart your own path. Don’t blindly follow the vast herd of humanity; instead, break free from the crowd.
Invest time in finding things you are good at and then find something valuable that makes the world a better place by genuinely helping others. That’s the trick to have a happy, fulfilled, and prosperous life.
You are graduating at a time when the world is getting ready for the next big shift in how we work, live, and play.
The coming “super convergence” of mobile, cloud, social, analytics, and big data will completely reimagine the way we learn, think, live, and operate in our society.
This is not just a technology phenomenon, but a shift in society’s fabric. Ninety percent of world information was created in just the last two years and this is doubling every five years. Data is the new oil and there will be many industries that will be built to exploit this.
This is not just an opportunity for those with technical backgrounds. The next 10 years will open up massive opportunities for everyone—from individuals to small businesses to large companies.
Be bold, trust your intuition, and do take risks. If you miss the mark, as you sometimes will, may it be for too much audacity, and not too little.
Build resilience and remember that success is never final, failure is never fatal.
Third, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose”
Finally, one of my biggest personal discoveries was that the very purpose of life is to find purpose in what you do.
Let me share a story with you. During both of my startup companies I used to have a picture of the “Golden Spike,” a picture taken on May 10, 1869 to commemorate the final spike to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States.
It showed Americans from all nationalities in front of the train—from business men to immigrant workers from Germany, Italy, and China with shovels and spades in their hands.
When I was building my software startups, I always took inspiration from that picture and used to tell my team of engineers, many of whom were immigrants like me, that just like they built the physical America over 100 years ago, we are now building the digital America to improve our healthcare and our financial networks.
What this did was give all of us a purpose that was much bigger than our lives or our bank balances. It motivated us and made it much easier to take the body blows that you inevitably experience while building a startup.
I also found something else that was interesting. If you set your mind to a cause that is big and pursue it with integrity, there is an invisible hand that guides you when you hit obstacles.
So, as you go forward with focus and boldness, find out what brings meaning and purpose to YOUR life.
Don’t just chase money; find and go after a worthwhile purpose. Money is just the scoreboard. Find a game you are good at and the scoreboard will take care of itself.
And, as you find your success, which you will, help some people along the way and acknowledge those who helped you, including this great university.
So, go make your mark, find what you like doing, pursue it boldly, and find meaning in it.
Congratulations, class of 2013, on receiving a first-class education, from this first-class institution. Make sure that you carry the Spartan spirit forward.
Thank you once again for allowing me to play a small part in such an important day in your life today.