“You are all going to do that in different ways. This is a beautiful thing. There are countless ways to have a meaningful impact on the world; your challenge is to find your own path, the one that is right for you. What this means is if you are passionate about investing, please, do it. If you are passionate about marketing, please, do it. Consulting, healthcare, social enterprise, there are no right or wrong answers here. Find the path that is right for you and embrace it with the kind of vitality and integrity that we all know you have in you. “Honestly, the world needs fewer people going through the motions, doing things for the wrong reasons… and more people doing things they care deeply about.
“My guess is you are already surrounded by people who have expectations about what you should do with your life post-graduation…. your family, your friends, your colleagues, your mentors. It’s hard enough to sort through all of the static and try to figure out what makes sense for you. The last thing you need is a salary graphic from the New York Times trying to influence your decision on top of that.”
‘NOT THE KIND OF MEDIA ATTENTION WE EVER LOOK FOR OR SEEK TO ATTRACT’
Moon also told the students that the Times story was not invited by Harvard. “As you can imagine, this is not the kind of media attention we ever look for or seek to attract, but it’s also one of those things we can’t really control,” she said. “It seems that every five to ten years or so, some major publication—whether it be the New York Times, Inc., the New Yorker, etc.—decides it is going to write about us in a big way. Invariably, they get some of it right and they get some of it wrong. This is not necessarily because the journalism is weak (although in some cases, it has been) but rather because modern journalism is, by nature, a blunt instrument. The idea that a reporter can come in and capture something as multidimensional as the HBS culture after having studied it for just a few weeks or months is simply unrealistic.
“Now, we could resent this kind of attention and be somewhat bitter about it, but that wouldn’t quite be fair. We can’t simultaneously relish the fact that we are affiliated with an institution with a global reputation while also complaining about the media scrutiny. Rather, the balance we need to strike, in my mind, is a delicate one: On the one hand, we should care about perception, we should care about reputation; we should, at all times, be cognizant of the messages we are sending—explicitly and implicitly—with our actions, our words, our institutional policies, and our internal culture. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to become preoccupied with our external reputation to the point where it ceases to be constructive. Yes, I personally felt there were parts of the article that were misleading, and you may have felt the same way… but we can’t worry about that. We don’t need to argue our case in the media.”
‘THE STORY SPEAKS TO NOTIONS OF WEALTH, OF ARROGANCE, OF PRIVILEGE, OF ENTITLEMENT’
Moon said she was also uncomfortable with how the story explicitly played into the less-than-positive stereotype of the HBS student. “Sometimes, the subtext of a story can be as salient as the primary narrative. And when it comes to stories about Harvard Business School students, so often the subtext of the story tends to speak to notions of wealth, of arrogance, of privilege, of entitlement, and so on. In media, in movies, in pop culture, this is the negative stereotype that gets reinforced, over and over.
“When I encounter these stereotypes, my first reaction is to sigh. My second reaction is to be defensive. My third reaction, the one I try to hold onto and carry around with me, is to remind myself that there is a large part of this meta-narrative I cannot singlehandedly control, but there is also a small part of it that I can… and that’s the part I try to focus on.
“This is what I believe. I believe that in everything we do, we need to defy the negative stereotypes people try to impose on us. We need to bewilder them with our generosity, our humility, our good humor, and our compassion. We need to be the opposite of defensive; we need to be open, self-critical, willing to shine a light on ourselves. And as we embark on different career paths, we need to make sure that our motivations are true. We need to be constantly asking ourselves, are we trying to create real value in the world, meaningful value in the world… or are we just in it for ourselves? Most importantly, we need to hold onto our ideals. Just because there are folks out there who are cynical about us does not mean we have to succumb to that cynicism ourselves. There will always be skeptics, there will always be doubters. Our best response is to simply carry ourselves in a way that gives lie to their preconceived notions about us.”
Moon also defended the school’s culture while acknowledging that there are times when she has been deeply concerned about how imperfect it can sometimes be. “I love our culture,” she wrote. “I worry about our culture. I celebrate and cherish our culture; I have real concerns about our culture. Is it possible for a place to be both magical and deeply imperfect, at the same time? To be both empowering and dispiriting, at the same time? It must be, because this is the HBS I know. At its best, it is a community filled with aspiration; at its worst, it is a place with far too much cynicism. It is big and diverse and multifaceted; it is a place where a variety of subcultures abound. This is the challenge and this is the blessing associated with a two-year residential experience that is totally immersive, that asks you to be all-in from Day One, and I don’t think the New York Times captured even a fraction of this multidimensionality. As you engage in your conversations, this is what I hope you keep in mind. Remember: There are 1,800 of you living in this village, which means there is going to be friendship and community and solidarity, but there are also going to be social fissures that can be hurtful and demoralizing.”
(See following page for the complete memo)