Tag Archives: Graduate

Commencement 2020: A Letter to Our Future Leaders

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today, to join this Class of 2020 with the World.  2020 has been such a surreal year that your graduation will certainly remain remarkable.  Staying in place has made in-person toasts a tedious task, so we raise a symbolic glass in your honor.  Congratulations!

Finally, it is your commencement

I remember when I was in Second Grade when studies seemed endless and I asked my teacher how long it would be before we stopped learning. The answer has stayed with me till today – “NEVER!”  What a shock when you are 7 to hear that studying is never over!  She said life is a continuous learning process. And perhaps that is what has inspired me to keep learning till today. 

University of life

Of course, one does not have to sign up formally to any course for learning.  You are automatically enrolled in the University of Life which gives admission to people from all walks, irrespective of their grade with no discrimination of age, color, creed. 

Sometimes you get a gentle guru and at other times a tyrannical taskmaster. Both teach you different things.  Keep an open mind so you learn from your experiences.  Keep an open heart so that you take others under your wing and give to those who might need a hand.  And never forget those who have extended you a hand, in your time of need.

Speak up

Recognize other’s struggles. The role of being a Knight in Shining Armor has become less dangerous and genderless. It doesn’t require the skill of horse-riding, or slaying dragons – just that you raise your voice with and for others when you see injustice.  

Never let someone tell you your place. Never have someone have you questioning your self-worth or your worth as an employee. 

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your sisters and brothers. Stand up to injustice. Just be upstanding and outstanding in whatever you do.

Don’t undersell yourself, but don’t be a sellout either.  It is better to rise to the top with others rather than alone. 

Lift each other up. Remember you are stronger as a tribe.  

Changemakers

I have great hope for the current generation.  It is more open, more accepting, and more tolerant than the previous generations.  We are headed in the right direction.  Your asset is your idealism – guard it against a cold and cynical world.  Idealism is what leads you to fight for changes – big or small. 

Recent events, such as Black Lives Matter, have shown us that the world still needs radical change. You are the changemakers. Do more than sharing news on social media. Sign petitions, protest, talk to your City Council Members, get involved in politics – find ways in which you can make a difference.  

We must look beyond the comfort of our own communities to speak up for others facing dire situations.  While there is a sense of belonging within any individual culture, there is no greater strength than feeling a sense of oneness with the larger community of the world – a recognition, that we –despite our color, race, gender identity, nationalities– are all human. Our happiness and freedoms come from the happiness and freedoms of our brothers.  A cry for help must not be quelled. 

Money talks

You have all been blessed to have an education. Some of you will be earning sooner than others. You’ve earned your right to spend!  Money used for yourself gives you pleasure.  Money used to buy someone else a gift doubles in value.  Money invested wisely in the stock market may triple in value. 

But money given to someone in need or money invested in humanity, now that is priceless!  How much is the value of your money multiplied by Infinity? 

Money has great buying power.  But know also that what cash CANNOT buy is what is TRULY valuable.  Love, peace, happiness, friendships, and health – invest in these. 

It’s your life

You have one life – so live it up.  Live it to your fullest!  Yes, you have one life – make sure what you do counts.  Some of you will no doubt create huge waves, but others will affect the world with gentle ripples. You get no certificates from the University of Life, except for the Karmic kind, and the satisfaction that you have served. 

To quote from the poem Incredible Woman written by Yours Truly, “Your beauty is not in your height, but the heights YOU will reach…”  So, be inventors, game-changers, set a spark – no, not as arsonists!  Spark debates, spark changes, make your mark on this world.  And while you are blazing trails, we, your Bay Area community, will leave the light on for you. Shine on!

Yours truly,
Meera Rao Prahlad

Meera Rao Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer, and volunteer with a variety of interests.  In addition to writing and teaching Language, she wears the hat of Director of Top Form Academy, which provides training in Business Communication and Etiquette to professionals, as well as life skills for youth. She is currently working on writing a book on Etiquette.

Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.