In a Berkeley MBA commencement “first,” the graduating full-time MBA class chose co-speakers to deliver the student address: Andrew Jensen and Alan Lock. The class of 2011 was inspired by the duo’s forthcoming Polar Vision endeavor, a record-breaking trek across Antarctica. Here are some excerpts from their speech, delivered at the Berkeley MBA commencement on May 15:
Alan Lock: All of us came to Haas to—at some level—change the direction of our journey in life. As with many journeys, we are often faced with hurdles that block our intended path. For me, it was the loss of much of my sight, a shock which happened relatively early in life and left my plans in disarray. Virtually overnight, the destination which had always been so clear and sharply focused for me suddenly disappeared.
In trying to rebuild my life and my career, I had to find a way around this hurdle and I took a different direction than I otherwise might have done. I came to California and to Haas and in doing so set forth on a new path in my own journey.
I did not step onto that path alone. I joined 239 others with whom I would be spending the following 2 years. In short, 240 unique threads had weaved themselves from points all over the globe and for this brief period we would be fellow travelers. We had come from different countries, cultures and careers, but we all came with one goal: to change our lives for the better.
And I can sincerely say that the MBA experience did change my life for the better. Any fears I had taking on the challenge of an MBA with my impairment were swiftly quelled by the kindness and support of my fellow classmates that epitomized the principle of thinking “beyond yourself.” I know that my experience was replicated many times over for each of us. Whether it was the class coming together to support students families during the earthquakes in Chile or Japan, or the tireless work of many of the class in the annual C4C (Challenge for Charity) events, it really shows that people do care about the journey, and what they can contribute along the way.
A large part of my own experience here has been planning another journey, to take place later this year. As most of you know, Andrew and I are leading an expedition called Polar Vision, aiming to set a Guinness Record in attempting to reach the South Pole to support a number of sight charities.
This 6 day expedition across the frozen wastelands had a lot of parallels with our Haas experience. It involved setting into the unknown to trek toward a far off goal; it necessitated teamwork and a definite display of confidence (without attitude). As with our MBA course, there were challenges—indeed pulling a 140-lb sled across a featureless wasteland was comparable to trying to fill the limitless expanse of empty Excel cells to make a financial model (that works).
But despite the challenges, uncertainties, and hard work we faced on this particular journey, we finished it with a lifelong connection, a deep friendship, and a knowledge that this experience brought us together. And for me, and I am sure for all of you too, this is an exact reflection of our experience at Haas.
Andrew Jensen: I’ve heard it said that completing an MBA program is like walking down a flight of steps and accidentally missing the final step- one emerges disconcerted, but unscathed. I think everyone here can remember a moment during their program when they realized they had stepped from familiar ground and found themselves swimming in cool and unfamiliar water— be that the first time they were expected to correctly apportion fixed and variable costs in a tractor manufacturing facility, consume as many cupcakes as possible in one minute, or negotiate Telegraph avenue after sunset.
We experienced these moments because we demanded challenge from this program. It was no small feat to be allowed the honor of walking through the doors of this school during orientation week—parents, please take a moment to pat yourselves on the backs—your sons and daughters made it here because they, and you, were excellent at what they did.
Still though, we came because we found something missing from our lives. We were not content to be the mechanisms of other schemers and detritus on the waves of fate, but felt our future success should only be limited by the power of our own imaginations. We believed the occasional pessimistic atmospheres we encountered must be met with new resolution and resourcefulness.
We were fortunate in that we didn’t decide to come to just any business school. We don’t see our careers as means for furthering our own frivolities, ultimately chasing those frivolities until they vanish. But rather, we see our work as an extension of carefully articulated core principles which we plan to propel fondly forward into the world. Haas, at this time and place, distinguishes itself in not merely striving to give its students the means to disentangle the business challenges its students will face but also finding solutions which are socially responsible and sustainable.
Alan and I have walked our own paths among you. From Alan, I learned that while the paths of our lives twist and earlier assessments of the future fade, there is no status quo which cannot be challenged through determination, innovation, and intrepidity. From my time with you I’ve felt the energy of a thriving community built on the exchange of ideas… something that can’t be found merely anywhere. And from meeting you all I’ve been inspired—not to walk a path because ‘it’s the right next step for my career,’ but because we, as a careful gifted few, have an obligation to go beyond ourselves and promote ideas that can propel the world fondly forward.
Alan Lock: As we step out again into the world, we will all be headed in different directions. However, the common tie that we will always have is the time we shared together. These two precious years where friendships were forged, careers were born and new ideas blossomed. Each of us has faced challenges and knockbacks, but we have never faced them alone, and I believe all of us will have made deep connections here that will last a lifetime.
So in setting out on the next stage of your own journey, I want to leave you with one final thought. Whatever goal you set yourself, aim high. Life will doubtless throw obstacles in your way, or you may be taken in a hundred different directions before you get there, but if you aim high and harness the same spirit that attracted you to Haas in the first place, then you’ll have an amazing journey. So whether your aim is to change the lives of communities in Africa, create the next generation of green technologies, start a company, or, indeed, reach the South Pole, we can all look back on this time as the start of that journey. Furthermore, we can take the next step knowing if we do aim high and strive to make a difference in whatever we do, then we will truly be going beyond ourselves and commencing a journey that will be fulfilling and will touch the lives of those around us.