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Dartmouth Commencement 2007

(Posted 06/10/07)

Commencement Address by Henry M. Paulson, Jr. '68
Henry M. Paulson,
Henry M. Paulson, Jr. '68
Listen to remarks by Henry M. Paulson Jr. ’68 (15:10, 17.4mb)

Thank you, President Wright, Board of Trustees and Faculty. This is a great honor, for which I am truly grateful. This is my second degree from Dartmouth—and the best part is I did not have to take any exams for this one. Let me also recognize my fellow recipients of honorary degrees. I very much admire and appreciate your contributions to society.

And a big congratulations to the Class of 2007. You have just received a terrific education in this idyllic spot and it is a great time to be entering the next phase of your life. How could you be more fortunate? True, the choice of your commencement speaker does leave something to be desired.

When The Daily D reported that I'd be your speaker, it quoted one senior as saying, "I am a little bit disappointed in the choice because I really have no idea who he is at all."

Sure, Bill Gates just spoke at Harvard; the University of New Hampshire had two former U.S. presidents; and Howard University welcomed Oprah Winfrey. But remember those students didn't have Tubestock. And neither will any future Dartmouth class.

Now, I do remember at least a little about my own graduation. But what I can't remember is a single word of the commencement address or even who gave it. So, I will keep this one brief and talk about a subject near and dear to all of your hearts—you.

Graduates, I will begin by touching on why you are so fortunate. You have just spent some of your best years at the same beautiful campus in the same beautiful part of the world that attracted me to Hanover. Some of you, like my daughter Amanda who graduated in 1997, have been up Mt. Moosilauke numerous times and paddled the Connecticut River from its source to the sea. Others have spent your free time on the sports field, at the ski way, or right here in Hanover at the Hopkins Center or Sanborn Library. You have made life-long friends.

You have learned to love learning, to think creatively, to question conventional wisdom and, hopefully, to express yourselves well.

And to you parents out there who wonder about your sons and daughters graduating today with English majors—I like to hire English majors. Now, maybe that's because I was an English major.

Seriously, as an employer, I have long believed in a liberal arts education from a U.S. college or university—I believe that Shakespeare, Socrates, and the Peloponnesian wars are great preparation for successful careers.

Now, I hate to spoil your graduation by mentioning that four letter word—jobs. I am sure some of you have already selected your first job and done so with great conviction. Some of you have made a tentative decision with some trepidation. Some of you are still trying to make a decision. Others, much to your parents' dismay, won't get around to seriously thinking about a job for some time. You will all eventually sort this out in your own way, and your thinking will evolve. It certainly did for me.

Before Dartmouth, I thought it would be great to be a forest ranger and spend time in wild, beautiful places. After a few years of Dartmouth English classes, I thought I wanted to be an English professor.

But events and circumstances led me to Washington D.C. and the U.S. government for my first job. And, I have spent my career in business and finance. And I have been continually challenged to use the same thought processes, creativity and communication skills which engaged me in my Dartmouth English classes.

I still spend lots of time in wild, beautiful places—this first love has grown into a dedication to the cause of conservation and environmental protection.

Your careers will be rewarding. You are graduating at a time of abundant opportunity and challenges. Whatever path you choose will involve complex issues and the opportunity to make an impact far greater than was possible five, or ten, years ago.

This is a young person's world. A world where technology empowers and rewards talent, creativity and initiative; one in which knowing how things used to be done is less relevant than knowing how to continually learn and to adapt.

Each of you, in your own way, must and will learn how to deal with the accelerating pace of change. Of course, even in a world of change, there is much that remains the same. I'd like to identify some core principles which remain constant and will impact your lives and careers.

And then I will say a few words about extending your careers to enrich your lives and those of others through service—volunteering your time and energy to benefit society. But first some points about those jobs...

One, there is no perfect job, but there is a right one for you. If you spend too long trying to conjure up the perfect one you may not find the right one. So, get started. And, remember even learning what you don't like can be an important step towards finding what you do.

Two, the most important thing you can do in your first job is to learn and to grow. You can afford almost anything other than not to learn.

Three, work with people you enjoy spending time with. Almost as important as what you do is whom you do it with.

Four, avoid a short term mindset. There will always be the temptation to compare yourself to others and ask, "Am I moving up fast enough?" Anything worthwhile in life must be achieved by striving for it over time.

Five, aim to have a global mindset. The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place; what happens somewhere else in the world affects us all. Some of you will find jobs that require you to think and act globally. If not, make sure you have the intellectual curiosity to do so.

Six, value your integrity. You are good people, but good people sometimes do bad things. It is necessary but not sufficient to ask yourselves, "Is this within the rules?" or "Is it legal?" Always ask, "Is this right?" And if something does not feel right—even if it seems that everyone else is doing it—pause and ask plenty of questions. If you are still not comfortable, chart a different course. Keep your moral compass pointing true North.

Seven, maintain a positive attitude. Those who are grateful and constructive, even in the face of adversity, are apt to be much more successful than those who aren't.

Eight, my last bit of career advice is very important. Success in any career, whether it is business, law, academia, whatever you choose, will require you to work hard. Yet, your key to happiness and ultimate success is going to be your ability to balance your personal life and your job.

Every job I ever had—from the early days of my investment banking career, to when I was running a global investment bank, to my current job as Treasury Secretary—could easily take up every waking moment, if I let it. But my conscious decision to regularly ride a bike, hike, bird or fish has brought needed refreshment, made me a better husband and father, and more effective professionally.

Now, that's it for my job advice, but I will now talk a little about something else which, like your family and friends, has the power to greatly enrich your life: service. Service comes in many forms. Service is about making a real difference for a cause that is important to you—whether it is serving on a school board, working with a non-profit to protect our environment, or counseling wounded war veterans like your President, Jim Wright.

Given Dartmouth's service ethic, as epitomized by the Tucker Foundation, many of you already know real satisfaction from giving back to society.

For me, the cause is conservation and environmental protection. This can be traced back to my early love of wilderness. I also owe this in large part to my wife, Wendy.

Through her example, Wendy helped me bridge the gap between merely enjoying being in the wilderness to committing our time and money to preserve those places we loved. Early in our marriage when our finances were tight, Wendy shocked me with the confession that she had just given $500 of her teaching salary to The Nature Conservancy. Initially, I wasn't too happy about her decision, but before long she had me out on an Illinois prairie, cutting down buckthorn and helping to restore a native landscape. Out of those early experiences has grown a shared dedication which has enriched our marriage and our lives as Wendy and I have worked together in the U.S., Latin America, and Asia to save ecologically important places.

As our commitment to conservation grew, I was able to extend the skills, experiences and contacts from my day-to-day job to help establish parks in the Yunnan Province of China and, as Chairman of the Board of the Nature Conservancy, to improve corporate governance, risk control systems and training programs to further the cause of global conservation and environmental protection.

Experience and knowledge from my chosen career, investment banking, helped me advance a cause I care deeply about, the protection and stewardship of our planet.

Over time, my early love of nature has grown into an appreciation for how fragile our environment is and how urgent is the need to protect and conserve it. I believe that many of you will also find that, like your careers and families, service has the power to greatly enrich your lives while you enrich the lives of others. Here too, I would suggest a few simple rules:

  • Do not serve only as an obligation. Avoid "check the box" volunteer work. Get involved in an area where you care deeply, and with people you want to be with.
  • You will then be rewarded twice—first, in the good you do and second, in personal satisfaction and enrichment.
  • Serve where you are really needed, seeking out tasks you will do well because they play to your strengths. Your time is precious. Make sure you spend it where you can contribute something no one else can.
  • And, finally, when you measure your contribution, measure it on a long term basis by the good you do.

The desire to serve, to make a difference in something you really care about, may also lead you to government service. At the beginning of my career, a government job provided a great opportunity to learn, to rapidly assume responsibility and make real contributions. Last year, I was given another chance to serve, this time as Treasury Secretary.

I had spent 32 years at Goldman Sachs and I loved the firm and the job. Many people counseled me against leaving it, pointing to the fact that few who go to Washington leave with their reputations enhanced. This was a difficult decision for me, but I have never looked back. Public service, the second time around, is even more fulfilling.

Nothing compares with the honor and privilege of representing the United States of America, and I am inspired by those leaders who have come before me. And, as I look ahead, I also find it inspiring to anticipate the contributions you, the class of 2007, will make to the world through your careers and your service to humanity. Go make a difference! And have a lot of fun along the way.

Return to Commencement 2007

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