Home » Robert F. Smith’s Commencement Speech at Morehouse (Full Transcript)

Robert F. Smith’s Commencement Speech at Morehouse (Full Transcript)

You should be taking business and career risks, do the analysis and most importantly trust your instincts. When you bet on yourself, that’s likely a good bet.

RULE 3: BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT THE WORDS YOU CHOOSE

My third rule is always be intentional about the words you choose.

I know Morehouse has taught you all that what you say matters and what you say carries with it enormous power. Be intentional about the words you speak, how you define yourself, what you call each other, the people you spend time with and the love you create. This all matters immensely, it will define you.

RULE 4: YOU ARE ENOUGH

My fourth rule, which is actually my favorite, is to always know that you are enough. I mentioned that before going to investment banking at Goldman Sachs, I was working as an engineer at Kraft General Foods. One day I was at a meeting with the number of my department heads going through our divisional strategy and sitting around a conference table lining up what were the most important strategic imperatives.

When I looked at those six initiatives, I was leading five of them. I was half the age of everybody in that room and I know making a third of everybody in that room. And I said to myself I’m either doing something really right or really wrong. And frankly it was a little bit of both.

So that became a lesson to me in realizing my worth and self-worth. It isn’t just about salary, although that does matter. It’s about demanding respect from others and from yourself. A realization and respect for all the skills and talents you bring to the table. When you have confidence in your own worth, you’ll become the one to raise your hand for that next assignment and it may be hard. That made me putting in time on nights and weekends and it also means you’ll be gaining incremental skills and experiences that enhance your craftsmanship and earn your respect through your body of work.

Let the quality of your work products speak of your capabilities. Know that you are only bound by the limits of your own conviction because you are Morehouse man. There is no room on this earth you can’t enter without your head held high. You will encounter people in your life, as I have, who will want to make you feel like you don’t belong. But when you respect your own body of work, that’s all the respect you need.

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In the words of the great Quincy Jones and Ray Charles:

“Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me.”

You are enough.

RULE 5: WE ALL HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO LIBERATE OTHERS

The fifth and final lesson for you all today is as follows. We all have the responsibility to liberate others so that they can become their best selves in human rights, the arts and business and in life. The fact is as the next generation of African-American leaders, you don’t want to just be on the bus. You want to own it, you want to drive it and you want to pick up as many people along the way as you can.

Because I will tell you more than the money, the awards, the recognition, and the titles, we will all be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us. How many people will you get on your Bus Number 13?

We need you to become the elected leaders who step up and fix the laws that engender discrimination and set a tone of respect in our public discourse. We need you to become the C-suite executives who change corporate culture, build sustainable business models and make diversity and inclusion a core and unshakeable value.

We need you to become the entrepreneurs who will innovate inclusively, expand wages for all Americans and lower the unemployment rate in our communities. We need you to be the educators who set the standards and demand the resources to deliver on those standards and inspire the next generation and we need you to invest the real estate and businesses in our communities and create value for all of us in those communities.

No matter what profession you choose, each of you must become a community builder. No matter how far you travel you can’t ever forget where you came from. You’re responsible for building strong safe places where our young brothers and sisters can raise children and grow in confidence. Watch and learn from positive role models and they believe that they too are entitled to the American Dream.

You men of Morehouse are already doing this. I know your own student government, in fact, send students on a bus to underserved communities to actually empower young black men and women to seize their own narrative and find their own power in their own voice. This is exactly the kind of leadership I’m talking about.

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Remember that building a community doesn’t always have to be about sweeping change either but it does have to be intentional. You just can’t be a role model sometimes.

I’m cognizant of the fact that every time I’m in public, people are observing my actions. The same goes for you. Building community can’t be insular. The world has never been smaller but we need to make and help our communities think bigger.

I’ve invested particularly in internship programs because I’ve observed the power of exposing young minds to opportunities that work in their neighborhoods so they can see what they can become.

Help those around you see the beauty of this vast world. Help them believe that they too can capture that dream. And remember community can be anywhere. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, community was a few blocks around where I grew up. Today we — you can create communities of people all around the world.

Merging the physical and digital communities will be one of the great opportunities that you have and you will have in these years going forward. And finally, don’t forget that communities thrive in the smallest of gestures. Be the first to congratulate a friend on their new job. Buy their new product posted on social media and tell everybody how great it is and be the first to console them when they face adversity.

Treat all people with dignity even if you can’t see how they’re going to help you. And most important of all whatever it takes, never ever forget to call your mother. And I do mean call, don’t text. Texts don’t count.

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