Most Stirring Speech Ever By An MBA

by John A. Byrne on

It’s rare that a commencement address rises above the ordinary, a nice got-to-have speech filled with cliches about fulfilling one’s promise. It’s even rarer that a graduating student shows up the official invited speaker at a commencement to deliver a highly memorable and rousing oration. 

But it happened last month at Harvard Business School when one of the some 900 graduating MBAs stepped behind the podium and before the microphone.

With surprising poise and self-confidence, Casey Gerald rose to the occasion, giving the most inspiring and stirring speech we have ever seen given by a graduating MBA. 

His 17-minute Clintonesque exhortation–without notes–to fellow students and their families even overshadowed Khan Academy Founder Salman Khan who returned to HBS to deliver the official address to the Class of 2014 at the annual pre-commencement Class Day ceremony.

Gerald spoke movingly about a near-death experience with armed gunmen in his hometown of Dallas, and how that changed his life forever. “A strange thing happened as I accepted that I was about to die: I stopped being afraid.” He then decided to “give my life to a cause greater than myself.”

A LAWYER AT YALE SAID THAT IF YOU WANTED TO CHANGE THE WORLD IN THE 21ST CENTURY GET AN MBA

Initially convinced he would become a lawyer, a summer internship within a law firm “quickly disabused me of the idea.” Investment banking came next as an intern at Lehman Brothers in the summers of 2007 and 2008. He got an inside view of the firm’s dramatic collapse. “It’s the story of my generation,” Casey says. “No one thought an institution like that would come tumbling down. But we all saw how fragile and vulnerable any institution can be.”

While at Yale, Casey attended a law school event at which the speaker made an observation that had a lasting impact upon him. “He said law was the instrument of social change in the twentieth century,” Casey explains, “but if you want to change the world in the twenty-first century, get an MBA.” Casey applied, and was accepted into, HBS’ deferred admission 2+2 program, using the two years of work experience to explore options in both social policy and business. He worked for  the Center for American Progress, the Cities of Service Coalition, and Reboot, “a design-based approach to innovation in the public sector,” and the latter through Neiman Marcus, where he worked on the president’s five-year strategic plan.

After arriving at Harvard Business School from Yale, Gerald said that HBS “changed who we were; it reminded us who we could be. It reminded us that we didn’t have to wait until we were rich or powerful, or until we actually knew finance, to make a difference. We could act right now.”

ON THE FRONT LINES OF CHANGE

With three classmates, Casey founded a non-profit, MBAs Across America, which is a movement of MBAs and entrepreneurs working together to revitalize America. “We saw the signs for hope in entrepreneurs who were on the front lines of change. They showed us that the new ‘bottom line’ in business is the impact you have on your community and the world around you — that no amount of profit could make up for purpose.”

Last summer, Gerald set out on an 8,000-mile journey across the country with three other classmates to talk to people in “nooks and crannies, and the unbeaten paths,” to discover the interconnectedness of people’s lives, dreams, and aspirations.

The conclusion of his speech was a remarkable exhortation to his classmates, leaving little doubt that Gerald has at least the potential to become the next Obama.

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  • Syzygy

    Cicero may have graduated from HBS, but he wasn’t careful about learning English. “It’s” is not a possessive; it is a contraction for “it is.” And “pone” instead of “one” is a typo that reveals a carelessness that one would hope does not extend to other parts of his life.

  • Alex

    Obama speak abounds – you MBA if you want to – it’s better to go to work, take the road less travelled, work hard, save hard, lead by example, travel and work where you visit, learn from successful people, copy them if you need to, be open to new thinking and wise counsel, take intelligent risks and don’t forget to phone your Mum.

  • Realist

    I’m studying in SK and I tell you those scores doesn’t matter at all, they just study for a long time and are score-oriented, that’s why you don’t see too many asians taking Nobel Prize or Fields Medal. They are so good in math that all discoveries in stats and math come from europeans or americans of european heritage. Before coming here I thought that me, westerners are the bad guys, but these ones cheat much more than us. They memorize math exercises and are practicing a lot, but they don’t have the genuine and native capacity to analyse that’s why you see them succeed in math or other technical competitions until grad school and then boom, nothing.

  • FoodForThought

    Given that you either went to HBS before or after leading a small business, I doubt that you are in the target demographic of Casey’s organization. More likely than not it is for those who don’t really have very solid business acumen, or those who do, but want some new blood to help them get over a stumbling block. You’re experience won’t always mirror that of others (especially given your background), so i’d advise you to keep that in mind when making your assessment of a programs efficacy.

  • Marilyn Pineda

    I agree with Mr. or Ms. FoodForThought’s remarks about the target demographic for Casey’s new venture and there are probably a lot more of those people than HBS graduates. However, as a graduate of the Wharton MBA program and a former small business entrepreneur, I find his passion and his eloquence vastly more interesting than someone else with a lot of experience who could perhaps teach me something I don’t know. I would walk to Montana and pitch a tent in a rancher’s field to hear what these four new graduates are going to do next.

  • Christine Jerelene Robinson

    Awesome. I only wish he’d get rid of the old time negro preachers’ tone.

  • aruncsatsangi

    Inciting …

  • Chris

    I hope you will visit California one day…

  • simonts

    Obama could never give a speech like this with any credibility. This speech reminded me much more of the great speeches of Kennedy and Clinton than anything Obama has ever said.

  • simonts

    This eloquent thought provoking speech gave me hope that the gradual degradation of our country which started by the Reagan “revolution” will stop and there is hope that this generation and the generations following it will rebuild it to become, again, a great nation, an example for other nations to follow. Given that much of what is wrong with our nation today came from the unconstrained greed of Harvard (and other) MBAs it is heartening to see that the call for change is coming form a Harvard MBA.

  • McGill

    ILLION45, am sorry but you have zero understanding of what you saying. “China’s education system NOWADAYS is far better than US” cheating in exams, buying exams questions before examination or teachers providing exams questions to students before exams and memorizing exam questions is not a healthy and disciplined form of education. It’s called cheating, it’s not an innovative system of education, period. The system of education, culture and indoctrination determines the characters of people in societies. Still, Chinese are the largest group of people that illegally copy foreign countries/companies products, they’re anti copyright gurus, they spy on everything under the sun and the cheat everywhere. If China’s education system is that great, then why is it that thousands if not millions of Chinese students and their parents are killing themselves to acquire western education in US, UK, Canada etc?…Every year millions of high school and universities students apply into western schools and universities, some have attempted to commit suicide when they get rejected. So, as much as you love your country and you were told that Chinese are better than every other national in the world, but I wouldn’t want to leave in the world wherein blind nationalism becomes the new objective thinking. Without a doubt, I still believe that western education is the best in the world, hence objective and independent thinking is the pillar to quality education.

  • guest

    Consumate professional? So you know him on a professional level?

  • guest

    More liberal nonsense…. thanks for sharing! Hahaha….

  • guest

    More liberal garbage

  • guest

    Watch out, it’s the grammar police out to getcha! Syzygy, did you see what I did there? I wrote ‘getcha’ instead of get you! Get out your handcuffs! Hahahaha! It’s people like you that have absolutely nothing else of value to say so you attempt insult people by pointing out typos. Get a life. Idiot.

  • guest

    And yet, you reply to him… I agree with him, but you seem to be inciting a reply by what you say.

  • guest

    You are an idiot.

  • Tracy Barber

    I’m probably the only person who could use a voucher now to prove beyond a reasonable doubt my net worth or network. How to become wealthy after graduating from Harvard Business School following Obama in the quest for proprietorship.

  • Celestino Mindra

    Great & indeed inspiring speech.
    I am 68 years in Africa with less useful time left to join the walk with you.
    But I will be happy to exchange ideas, experiences or know the strides you make that will make some diference in your comunity, around the world and in Africa, my continent.
    God bless you and give you health, wealth & more courage.

  • Realist

    Look, I’m just talking about what I see and looking at historical data. I’m not arguing about test results, but all discoveries come from above mentioned sources. They can’t even claim 10% of all important discoveries considering that education is their national sport. I really hope they will change smth about it because a more balanced world is better for everyone, but from what I experienced they have small chances to do that. They always need guidance, simply they can’t do new things.

  • Jaskon L

    The grade inflation line was good.

  • Steven Wilson

    OUTSTANDING!

  • Realist

    This link proves what I said, just working and score orientation. Look, there’s a research that shows a very high correlation between PISA tests’ scores and personal info completion rates for the same tests, which means people from some countries don’t actually care about the scores, they don’t tell to students that their scores matter a lot for the country’s ranking, but in Asia in different. Moreover for high-school olympiads, SK (and probably all asian countries) trains the students for some months in a boot-camp before competition, thing that doesn’t happen in western countries. The point is take the PISA results with a big grain of salt, or look in USA how good are these guys in high-school or undergrad competitions since 80′s, but the NP winners and best researchers are still the same guys. I saw already many times how good they are in computations and little tricks, GMAT, SAT, blah blah, but physics,stats,math,engineering research is mostly done by the other ones. Cheers.

  • wow

    wow…just wow. The ignorance

  • Jo barret

    Why do we have to sit through these mawkish teeth pullingly speeches. These guys have as much idea about life as a a child.
    If I was there I would have been trying to slip away for a comfort break or taking a walk outside.
    OK if you are this guys parents there is some interest, for everyone else, just think how selfish it is to force people to sit through it.
    This was boring in the extreme.

  • No Comment

    How come every time an African American man goes on stage and says something sophisticated everyone is like. Obama!. So stereotypical like every time a white dude raps their like Eminem.

  • Amy Edmondson

    much more!

  • Amy Edmondson

    That is the right challenge!

  • Meg

    The ‘next Obama’??? really??? Bill Clinton???
    I think his aspirations are higher than that!

  • muyiwaoloidi

    Awesome is what I can say. Also, challenging…

  • Gabriel Marcel

    Words are just words until proven otherwise, meaning great leadership needs to be tested during crisis. That’s been said, this speech reminded me of Martin Luther King, feel like in a church, listening without knowing why or where he is leading us.

  • nick seguin

    A strong speaker, to be sure.

    The model of his endeavor, however, is not strong. For one thing, MBAs can provide little to no value to small businesses and especially new ventures/entrepreneurs. For another, one week of engagement certainly does not lasting behaviors create.

    While an inspiring speech and unique story, I feel this is likely more a venture optimizing for the current trend (SMBs! and entrepreneurship – which has become a sector) as opposed to a critical and meaningful assessment of segments most in need and best-ready for the specific resources.

  • cherie faiella

    well done

  • NewyorkerOD

    He certainly has the Clinton lip curl, the mischievous glint in his eye, the hand gestures and the Southern drawl. Have I missed anything? Oh yeah, great speech!

  • janos

    I completely agree with the John A. Byrne, such an incredible speech from a young man. Wow, I could only dream to be able to speak so remarkable well and it truly came right from the heart. Casey’s story is very moving and I wish him much success on his journey to do great things for mankind. Bravo!

  • harold s lewis

    Excellent speech from a content and delivery perspective. Love to hear any speaker these days, especially those talking to MBAs, exhorting the necessity of hard work. Not sure why there is so much vitriol on this board for what he shared.

  • Paul

    The article was excellent, except for the last line. Having potential to be the next Obama is not a compliment, as many people i know including myself see Obama as a man with impeccable style, however with substance that is contributing to the downfall of America. A bigger compliment would be to say that Gerald has impeccable style and substance that makes sense–and those would be the two reasons why he is impressive.

  • Paul

    Casey seems like an intelligent guy with great experiences. Like most of us at HBS. I just reject the model that liberals like John Byrne endorse. Apparently now you just have to be a charismatic speaker and you qualify to be president of the United States. The economy is still sluggish, by most economic measurements including inflation (9.4% over the term), every executive order (most in US history for any president) signed was far left in nature and arguably not exec order-worthy, small businesses have been crushed on the cost side and most are barely making it. So, ending this article with “he’s the next Obama” shows what sort of bubble John Byrne and other liberals like him live in. Yes, John Byrne–the same guy who did Business Week’s B-School rankings and had Northwestern and Chicago numbers 1 and 2–while not paying any attention to the Yield. Harvard’s Yield was 9.5 out of 10 accepting the offer, while those other schools staying in the 5-6 out of 10 range. Yes, John Byrne–the same guy who believed for a number of years that the cost of business school education is not worth it–suddenly is Mr Business School. Great speech–wish someone else wrote the article on it.

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