Skip to main content

The Honorable Suresh Kumar

Class of 2011, parents and families, Chancellor George, Dean Womer and members of the faculty, thank you for allowing me to participate in your very special day.

As I sat down to scribe my speech, two thoughts ran through my mind:

- First, what do I say to you that you do not already know?
- And the other: what concerns you most at this time? Perhaps the immediate void of leaving the safety net we call "school", or maybe, getting a job. After all, commencement is a new beginning it comes with equal measure of hope and uncertainty.

And as I thought about jobs, my mind wandered to a Jobs beyond employment, who by pursuing his passion not only found a job but created many more by changing the way we connect and communicate. I am of course speaking of Steve Jobs who besides giving the world the IPad, IPod and IPhone also gave the best commencement speech I have ever heard the central premise of which was to discover yourself, follow your passion and quite simply, that life, like even the best plans, evolves.

So I decided that I will speak to you about embracing change and challenges, pursuing dreams and passion, American inventiveness and enterprise, and why the US leads the world. And you can be sure I will speak to you about trade and jobs!

Embracing Change & Challenges

We live in times of exponential change. The only guarantee these days is that the future will not be what it used to be. A few years ago no one knew what a tsunami was and within the last few years we have had an economic tsunami by way of the recession two years ago, a real tsunami last year in Japan that disrupted global economic recovery, and now we have looming uncertainty in Europe. At the same time, we saw youth and middle class refusing to accept the status quo- the Middle East had its Arab Spring- a ground swell of hope for the future. While there is much economic and political change the world over and no denying that job growth has been anemic, the fact is that private sector in the USA has created jobs each of the last twenty months.

There are more jobs that have been added in the last twenty months in the USA than were in the previous eight years. American companies that have chosen to "go global" have done well: our exports are up 16.5% over the last two years and exports have contributed a full half of our GDP growth. The world seeks US technologies, products and services, and values a cache of "Made in the USA" more than anything made elsewhere. And there is room to grow further: exports as a percentage of our GDP are only 12.5% while it is over 40% for Germany.

So do not fuss if this is best or worst time to graduate, it is the only time that you have! I am reminded of the story of a kid from the city going into a barn only to come dashing back complaining about the smell, while another excitedly returned saying "with all that manure, there must be a pony". So how and where will you look for your pony?

Pursuing Dreams and Passion

What would you ideally like to do? What do you enjoy? What makes you happy? These are the questions that must guide your decision on the life to pursue or the job to seek.

• Are you an entrepreneur seeking to start a new business? Do you know there were no IPhone app developers in 2006 and today there are 500 thousand apps for the IPad and IPhone?

• Are you looking for a career in business? What is your passion: marketing, finance or human resources? Which companies in your area are pursuing new technologies, entering new markets?

• Do you like teaching? Could it provide the right experience while you make a difference to the community and the country? Is signing up with Teach for America right for you?

• Is diplomacy one of your traits? Have you considered taking the Foreign Service or the Foreign Commercial Service exam and becoming a career diplomat?

• As a business major would you like to help American companies export more of their products and services? Have you considered internship opportunities at your local US Export Assistance Center (USEAC).

• Love politics? Have you thought of joining a campaign next year? Or interning in Congress? Don't just complain about the gridlock in Congress- do something to change it.

• How about joining a nonprofit organization? One of my most meaningful experiences was trying to help Africa feed itself.

The point is that you have options and in today's world you need to consider several paths, and not just one option. You are endowed with good education to make a difference. The world looks up to America, and America looks up to our youth- especially our educated young men and women.

There is no better time than Commencement to reflect on what you truly like, what gives you joy and pleasure. I know that it is sometime difficult to focus on what makes you happy, when your parents are asking about what you want to do when you grow up, or your spouses are telling you what to do now, and your teachers are likely telling you about the long term career you should pursue. Imagine if someone had asked Steve Jobs about his future when he was your age: I doubt he would have known, or would have said that he wanted to invent the IPod, IPod or IPhone. Accidental pursuit of a course in calligraphy led Jobs to a passion for beautiful typography that eventually became the elegant fonts on the Mac he created. Following an instinct for design, simplicity and elegance helped create products that have endured and endeared him, and indeed changed the way we listen to music or use a phone. Steve Jobs pursued his passion even while stumbling a few times. He discovered his abilities, persevered and in hindsight connected the dots to change that allowed him to invent new products and reinvent Apple.

Have you heard the Gestalt Prayer, a part of which says:

"I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine."

You do not need to live up to anyone else's expectations but yours. It is about what makes you happy, not what makes your parents or teachers happy. History is replete with examples of people who changed the world like Martin Luther King "who had a dream" or Gandhi who brought independence to a country by stubbornly practicing his conviction of non violence. Life is more than a job, and a job is more than just money: a job must be productive pursuit of a passion and a dream- a purpose.

St. Louis is known for many things from being the gateway to the west to being the home of Budweiser. And in the backyard of the big is also a smaller one, Schlafly that is very successful too. With courage and conviction, as an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs, or working with a small company like Schlafly or a big one like Anheuser Bush you too can change the world!

Whether you are in Iceland or in India, Beijing or Budapest, Santa Domingo or St. Louis all of us aspire for a better life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said "do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail".

America has always been a trail blazer in the world and we look to you, the class of 2011 of the University of Missouri at St. Louis to carry the tradition. By inviting me to share my thoughts with you at your city school this Commencement weekend, you have bestowed on me an unparalleled honor: your recent life at school and work is in equal parts aspiration and perspiration. What I share with you today in equal measure is inspiration and reality.

A city school, like America, is made up of hard working people, balancing work and investing in the future. Several of you have juggled school and a job. You have balanced books: your bank accounts and academics, work from your jobs and assignments from your schools. You have taken a risk and bet on the American Dream, and I am betting on you to deliver the promise that is America.

Because I know that America has always delivered. It is for this Reason that more people the world over wish to visit America or to have the privilege to call the USA home, than any other country in the world. Given a chance more people would to like to live in the USA than in Brazil, China or India combined. No other country has educated more world leaders, successful business people, or movers and shakers than America has.

This is why more people across the world aspire to be Americans. Our country respects and rewards hard work: where else could someone who grew up in India, run US businesses here and across the world, teach at business school in North America, and have the privilege of leading the President's charge on the National Export Initiative (NEI)? It's humbling, sometimes daunting, but always exciting and exhilarating. America is the bastion of free markets, a country that rewards hard work and innovation. As a steward of the President's NEI I am thrilled every moment to connect US businesses with opportunities across the world. It allows me to give back to a country that has already given me so much.

Never forget the idealism that is America, or the realism that it takes to succeed. Over fifty years ago an American president suggested that we "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". More recently our President has told us "yes we can". You must know what you are capable of, and what you need to do. That is why the words "yes we can" mean so much to me and I know that "yes, you can" because I know that America's best is yet to come!

The Foundation of American Enterprise

America is at its best when it is inventive. Entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in American culture, and the US leads the world in the creation of small businesses. Some of our biggest inventions came from individuals who went onto start small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and, others from public- private partnerships. And whatever the route, several of America's SMEs have gone onto become amongst the world's largest, most valued and revered corporation. Quite simply, when we have invented we have prevailed.

The United States gave the world mobility via the motor care and the airplane. We gave the world connectivity via the internet, PC and the GPS. Do you know where the Internet and GPS were invented? At DARPA, in the labs of the Department of Defense and then commercialized by the private sector. Today American enterprise is driving advances and new products in areas like clean and renewable energy, smart meters and smart grids.

Henry Ford developed the motor car. The Wright Brothers had the tolerance for early failures before they perseverance gave the world the airplane. And what keeps Bill Gates awake at night he said were "two men in a garage" referring to enterprising entrepreneurs whose inventions provided beyond competition, the impetus for constant innovation and the need for engaging in global markets. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs turned out to be much more than two men in a garage-they were the prime drivers of their SMEs which spawned operating systems, the ubiquitous PCs and led to the computer age- and helped their small companies become giant corporations.
SMEs have led innovation and two thirds of all new jobs created in the United States over the last 30 years have been at SMEs. Government programs support entrepreneurs who want to take risks in new endeavors and we encourage them to keep trying. Our well developed venture capital and private equity sectors compliment the entrepreneur's appetite for risk taking our legal systems encourage and protect innovation.

Winning the Future

To win the future President Obama always says that we must out educate, and out-innovate world.

The Obama Administration is focused on creating opportunities that encourage innovation and spur growth. The American Jobs Act proposed by President Obama would slash the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses; eliminate the payroll tax for firms that increase their payrolls by adding new employees or increase the wages of their current workers; extend the 100 percent expensing provision into 2012 for capital purchases; and, make reforms to improve access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses. This type of support encourages innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization and most importantly leads the way to job creation.

So class of 2011, some amongst you will be inventors, others will start a business, and yet others will help market American products and services internationally. Some of you will set out to change the country by joining politics, and some will make a difference across the world by pursuing your passion at a nonprofit organization. Commencement endows you with idealism and tempers you with realism: it is the time to take risk, engage and explore- don't second guess yourself, experiment, and do the best you can. That is how American enterprise was built.

Trust your instincts, research your options, and decide on not just one path but several options to pursue. Your experiences will augment your education and endow you with enriched skills and competencies. "Winning the future" requires engaging in new industries and emerging sectors- it requires innovative approaches. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between the ages of 18 and 42 the average worker would have held 10.8 jobs. The ten jobs most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004! You must reach out to parents, teachers, spouses and friends as sounding boards, but inevitably you will need to keep your own counsel. We parents know more about the professions of yesterday, while you seek the solutions for tomorrow. Most of us advice givers have more of our lives behind us, while most of you graduates have more of your lives ahead of you.

The opportunity you seek maybe here in St. Louis, or beyond. As you spread your wings the world is your domain. You could engage with the world from where you are, surf and transact productive business over the web, or explore the far corners productively. There are over 7 billion people on earth today- over a third of them are in China and India alone, and 60% are in Asia. By 2020 the world will add another billion people to the middle class - they are all potential clients, customers and consumers. Today's global GDP of $65 trillion is estimated to grow 40% to $90 trillion by 2020. US GDP alone will grow 50% from approximately $15 Billion today to $ 22.5 billion by 2020.There are opportunities at home and across the globe. How you tap into these opportunities, the route you take, must depend on the path that provides you the most satisfaction.

There is a world of opportunity to pursue, and so many ways to pursue it. I wish you all the very best in your quest to create a richer life, and a better world.