We and thousands of other brave, stalwart souls endured Dallas’ 95 degree heat and sweltering humidity yesterday to attend the Spring 2013 outdoor graduation ceremonies of Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business (Graduate). Given the ongoing $40 million face-lift to Moody Coliseum (the traditional indoor venue), the ceremonies were held on the Main Quadrangle in front of impressive and historic Dallas Hall. Thankfully, SMU anticipated the heat with hospitality stations handing out bottled water and paper fans. As well planned and executed this commencement was, we do hope they stay inside from this point on.
Friend Austin paired his Master’s in English Literature with an equally prestigious Degree of Master of Business Administration (Executive program) mirroring his professorial parents impressive academic achievements. SMU’s Cox Executive MBA program is ranked seventh in the world. So, Austin’s career is just beginning and he will, no doubt, ascend to a position of ultimate leadership wherever he decides to drop his hat. For us he represents all that is good and right with the younger generation. We heartily congratulate Austin and his Family for his very impressive achievement.
Now, I hadn’t attended graduation exercises at the college level in many years and immediately noted some major differences. Raised in the shadow of the Ivy League I was used to an academic community that saw representation from cultures all over the world. Though far from the Ivy League and Son Geb’s alma mater, American University, which also always sees impressive numbers of foreign students (the sons and daughters of foreign diplomats and embassy staffers), SMU demonstrates an impressive academic reach. The number of foreign students especially from China, India and from countries all over Africa while remarkable now appears predictable. It punctuates the substantial increase, for example, in Chinese students (207% increase from a decade ago) studying in the United States – now over 25% of all foreign students in the US. The number of other foreign students is also increasing.
While the lesson of stepping up to the plate and preparing our students for a far more competitive, global society seems to be lost at the high school level in the United States (especially here in Texas), that is not the case on the college level. Universities like SMU have seen an increase in endowments targeted at attracting foreign students. Lest we think that most of our Chinese students are from Taiwan, they are not. And, if you’re wondering if we are reciprocating – yes, we are. Through Chinese Scholar programs like the Schwarzman Scholars Program, more and more students are/will be studying in China. Despite some obvious differences, it’s fast becoming evident that they are us and we are them. Austin as a part of his graduate MBA curriculum visited both China and Vietnam. Please do not be fooled by political rhetoric or cultural differences and remember we all came from the same beginnings.
Dr. Al Niemi, the distinguished Dean of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University offered his welcome and charge to the graduating class of 2013. I vaguely remembered (always favorably) Dr. Niemi from his days as Dean of the heralded Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia – the oldest business school in the South. In his address Dr. Niemi reminded all in attendance that China is now the dominant industrialized nation in the world and despite some ups and downs, continues to increase its lead.
Niemi also offered a perspective from someone we suspect he may know one Ted Turner founder of TBS, CNN and winner of the Americas Cup in Newport (Captain Outrageous) among other impressive accomplishments. I follow Ted for several reasons – 1) He graduated from Brown University where my Father attended, 2) Ted has always been the candid voice for every Man – speaking up when everybody else was afraid and 3) I was sent an invitation to and attended the 1980 opening of CNN at the old Progressive Club in Atlanta, Georgia, then Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) headquarters. It was quite a party and I was honored and certainly appreciated being a part of history.
So, Turner is my kind of guy and we think the label “media mogul” really doesn’t do Turner justice. As controversial as he has been over the years he is now very careful about what and how he expresses himself and represents the ultimate in philanthropy. During the graduation ceremonies Dr. Niemi obtusely quoted what he reflected was, “reportedly, the world’s shortest graduation speech” where Duke commencement speaker “Ted Turner walked up to the podium and stated, ‘Your President asked me if I'd offer a few words of advice to you as you graduate. Here they are: 'Get out there and work your butts off.’ Then he sat down.” I had heard this story before though was also aware of a 1999 commencement address given by Turner to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management graduates where we certainly waxed eloquent (and much longer) even touching on politics. I find no other record of a commencement address at Duke University. So, while Turner could’ve/would’ve said, “Work your butts off”, however refreshing and welcome, that short, Turner-attributed address probably never happened.
Niemi was refreshingly brief (no clichés or hearts and flowers, etc.). He used Turner’s alleged remarks as metaphor to launch his more appropriate charge to “Work hard and earn your success, practice the Golden Rule, follow a moral compass, maintain your ethical standards, keep learning and maintain a safety net of relationships.”
This was a sound and well-delivered message, representing an excellent school and an outstanding class. The future looks bright. Well done, Austin.