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Transcript of remarks by Leslie E. Bains, HSBC at The Fuqua School of Business Graduation Ceremony, May 10, 2003
May 09, 2003
Thank you for allowing me to share this day with you. This is especially eventful for me because my family has a long history with Duke University. Both our children are graduates of Duke, my husband was chair of five classes for the Parent’s Committee and I have the honor of serving on the Duke Board of Visitors for the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and the Duke University Medical School. I am a Blue Devil.
I’m especially honored to be addressing such a diverse and accomplished group of graduates.
You are poised to be the managers, the leaders, the entrepreneurs and the philanthropists of the future, so what can I tell you as you embark on this journey?
When it comes to advice, I try to keep in mind the profound words of a term paper written by a small schoolgirl–
She wrote: “Socrates was a Greek philosopher who went around giving people advice. They poisoned him.”
So I’ll try to avoid that fate. I’ll simply begin by saying “congratulations.”
Congratulations graduates, you’ve labored long, and done good work, and we’re here to honor your achievement.
Congratulations also to the faculty, friends, spouses, parents, children and loved ones who were there to support and encourage you along the way. I’m sure you agree that this is their day as well.
As you embark on the next stage of your journey, you will draw on a valuable education, an education that you obtained not only from the Duke University faculty, but also from your unpaid professors– each other.
I understand that your class is made up of individuals from 24 different nations. What a wealth of knowledge and experience you already have to share!
In my life, I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to work with people from around the globe, not only in my role at HSBC Bank, which has offices in 80 countries, but also through my work in the non-profit sector. With the Interplast Foundation, which performs corrective surgery on children in developing nations, I worked with a team of doctors that provided aid in China, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Nepal.
When I began, I believed I was going to serve others. What I didn’t fully realize was how much I would learn.
For the past several years, HSBC has been honored to serve as host for a Philanthropy Forum for our private banking clients.
When Elie Wiesel joined us, he explained that the Hebrew word for “to give” is “natan” which is a palindrome. He said, and I quote: “forward and backward, it is still the same word---signifying that giving and receiving come from the same zone of our being.”
By immersing yourself in another way of life you learn new customs, vocabulary and new ways of relating to others. More importantly, by taking yourself out of familiar surroundings, you learn what it is to be yourself. You learn what you take for granted, what you do simply out of custom and habit. And hopefully you gain a greater sense of what you have within yourself that is unique, and what you have to give.
I recently read an interesting statistic—by the time a person graduates from college, he or she will have taken more than 2,600 tests, quizzes and exams. Most of these ask for “right answers.” The problem is that most of life is not like this—in life there are many potential “right answers,” but if you’re used to thinking that there is only one, you will stop looking for solutions as soon as you find one.
During the Space Race in the 1960’s, for example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration brought in some of its best scientists and engineers to confront a challenging problem—ball point pens wouldn’t write in the zero gravity environment of a space capsule. After considerable research and development, the team finally came up with a working zero-G pen. The project cost about $241 million. How did the Russian cosmonauts solve this problem? They used pencils.
These different “right answers” are why you’ll find that many breakthroughs in science and industry come from people from outside the field. Darwin’s theory of evolution was not the work of an archaeologist. Albert Einstein was not a physicist. Louis Pasteur was not a medical doctor. A musician invented Kodachrome film. A sculptor created the ballpoint pen. A veterinarian came up with the pneumatic tire. An undertaker invented automatic telephones. A journalist created the parking meter. A 16 year-old high school student invented the television. The list goes on and on.
The fact that you are here proves that you have the intelligence, and your education will provide you with the foundation, but sometimes you’ll need to forget what you have been taught to come up with something that can truly be of value to your fellow travelers.
This is not to say that the people around you will immediately embrace your original idea. You will most likely encounter people who are strongly attached to their right answers. They will say things like, “we’ve always done it this way.” Or they will say that because they could not do something, it cannot be done. They may give you very informed reasons as to why it will not work. So you may find that, in the beginning, you will have to travel a lonely road. This is not something to fear. If there is a well-worn path, it is someone else’s path—it is not yours.
But I caution you, there really is no such person as a self-made man or woman, no such feat as lone accomplishment, no such reality as complete independence—only interdependence.
As the poet Maya Angelou said, “Nobody and I mean nobody, makes it out here alone.”
This is why I have spent my adult life pursuing a theme of greater communication and connections between organizations that are often thought of as highly different, incompatible even—business and government, the non-profit and the for-profit sectors, academia and industry.
Yet each of these areas, like the individuals who comprise them, are interdependent, and it is only by recognizing this interdependence that they can grow to be their most vital.
The critical thing in my judgment is to recognize that we can improve relationships between these sectors. And the only way to overcome any barrier is though open dialogue. It is the responsibility of business to make a profit for its shareholders. But today business has responsibilities that are far further reaching than simply a narrow definition of profit. It is not just making profits, it is how you make them and what you do with them. Last year HSBC made a 5 year $50 million commitment to improving the environment. We’ve linked universities, government and our employees in that cause. My assistant is going to Peru in November to study Macaws, a professor from Duke’s School of the Environment is leading the trip!
The other vital part of the process is in Duke’s domain. Clearly the academic world creates, husbands and improves the nation’s human capital. There would be no penicillin without the work of Fleming and other scientists. But it took the drug company, Pfizer, to work out how to mass produce it and save millions of lives.
We must all recognize that we are mutually dependent. And that by working together and understanding each other’s needs better, we can all do what we do better and expand the horizons of people in government, business, academia and the non-profit sector.
Earlier I mentioned the Philanthropy Forum. Over the years, we have been blessed to have some outstanding leaders share their thoughts on philanthropy and giving with us. When Myrlie-Evers Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, joined us, she said that the people who think their personal efforts can’t possibly have an impact on the world’s problems are the same ones who think their votes don’t count.
Our last national election, along with introducing us to the term “pregnant chad,” proved that every vote counts, and every person’s effort makes a difference.
Each one of us—and especially each of you here today—has a unique opportunity to make a difference, to leave your mark on the world, to change lives for the better, and only by drawing on that which is unique within yourself can you truly make a valuable contribution to others.
The great dancer Martha Graham put it this way: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.
But at the same time please remember—Nobody, but nobody makes it out there alone. A minister named Robert Fulghum summed it up in a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He reminded us that one of the first lessons our kindergarten teacher taught us is that when we venture into the challenging world out there we should always “hold hands and stay together.”
All I know is that “hold hands and stay together” is darned good advice. It’s worked for me. So many hands have helped me at every juncture with every decision large and small.
I’ll leave you with a thought from a woman who overcame a great number of obstacles. Her name was Helen Keller, and in reflecting on her success she said, and I quote:
“It is my friends who have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges.”
Congratulations graduates. I AM CERTAIN, YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!