There were a few options I had for my last topic here on the Haas blog. I could’ve written about friendships; creating memories; how college was the best four years of my life. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot I have to say about those things. But those rosy and optimistic topics would be dissonant with what has become truly important to me as a senior about to face the real world.
Every day over the last semester, I’ve woken up and thought about how to change the world.
In part, I have Haas to thank for this overconfident audacity. Haas has opened doors for me that I never thought were possible. The peers and professors that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet at Haas have opened my eyes to the range of things that are achievable.
But part of my fascination about changing the world also rests on the fact that as I get older and learn more, the striking quantity and magnitude of the world’s problems become increasingly manifest to me.
Take environmental issues, for example: in today’s world, the EPA itself has removed data about climate change from its website, and is on the verge of being drastically de-funded. Heat waves are sweeping across the world, literally killing thousands of people, and the Arctic ocean is soon to be devoid of ice. Half a million people die in India per year from bronchitis, lung cancer, and other diseases linked to the toxic air. Meanwhile, people in China, including my baby cousin, sometimes cannot be outdoors without a mask. In fact, when she visited me a few years ago, she was amazed to see blue skies in San Francisco.
Or disease: I have friends and family who have been afflicted by cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, among many other illnesses. If this could happen to someone living in America, how bad can it get in some places around the world, where access to clean water and fresh food is a luxury, and health care is non-existent or absurdly expensive?
How about national security? Terrorism? Increasing income inequality? People dying from a lack of basic health care? Increased nuclear proliferation? Racism, prejudice and division?
I don’t mean to cast a dismal perspective on the future, but these things scare me. I am terrified by the overwhelming proportions of the things wrong with this world. But – I am also an anomaly, because as young people, we don’t have to worry about these problems yet.
…We didn’t have to worry about these problems.
As soon as we step out of the halls of this university, these problems will become increasingly ours, year by year, until finally we will someday be in a position to impact them. And for some of us, not just impact – change.
Do not be daunted by this truth. As young people, we have something that older generations might not: that overconfident audacity to wake up and say “I want to change the world”. The arrogance that our bosses will hate, because we speak up too much and “don’t understand how the real world works”. The big “millennial problem” of being way too idealistic and out of touch with reality.
I don’t think this is a problem. I think it is exactly what Haas meant to instill in us – that as individuals we have influence. That as businessmen and women we can exact change. That the only way things can change is if we have the courage to try.
I ask you to consider this: why did you enroll in Haas and choose to study business? Did you want to make money? Did you do it for the “prestige”? Or did come here because you wanted to someday be a leader? I assure you money and prestige exist everywhere and in all fields. Leadership is something much more valuable and rare.
The state of American leadership today might be described by some as “sad!”, or “horrible!”, or even perhaps, “a disaster, a complete disaster!”, but I beg to differ. Walking through the halls of Haas Business School every day and witnessing the tremendous boldness and talent intermingling on this campus has convinced me that this class has the potential to solve our problems, as long as we continue to dream and strive collectively. You are all the future leaders of the world, and I look forward to someday reading about your successes and thinking back to a distant and wary time when we still were uncertain about whether climate change would make our planet uninhabitable, or fearful that our family members might have to suffer through cancer or diabetes.
Class of 2017, I don’t yet know how to change the world, but in true Berkeley fashion, I’ll race you there.
Fellow Haasholes: Congratulations on your imminent graduation. Go out there and do your thing.