The Graduation Speech I Wasn't Asked to Give

By Jason Arican '15

Jason Arican '15

Jason Arican '15

Imagine my surprise when I noticed my name wasn't listed among the faculty members in the student poll for commencement speaker. Sure, it would be fair to question my qualifications for addressing our class at commencement by simply pointing out I'm not a faculty member. Either way, it got me thinking. What would I say if I had the chance to make a graduation speech?


I remember the first time I walked into the Winter Garden pretty vividly. I was on campus for my admissions interview, which must have been fairly obvious because a student approached me with a warm smile and said  "you must be here for an interview." I suppose my suit gave it away, but perhaps it was also because I walked through the space with my head cocked back and stared at the enormous columns, impressed at how the building could make a dreary, winter day look so full.

When my neck reset to a normal level, I looked at all the students and faculty who sat around the many tables littered across the room. l envisioned an idealistic exchange of ideas, as if business plans and economic theory were being discussed and debated right in front of me.

"This place is different," I thought. "There is something special going on here." I've since learned that these conversations are mostly just people complaining about the sushi in the cafeteria and students who are annoyed because they had to do a derivative on an Investments midterm, but now that I have the feel and have taken some time to reflect on these two years, I can confidently say that something pretty special did happen here. In a relatively short period of time, a group of strangers developed long-lasting friendships, and along the way, inspired each other to do better. That’s a big deal.

I’m reminded of a time when I talked with a classmate about our respective course load for the upcoming quarter. I only needed three classes to graduate, so I was proud of myself for enrolling in a fourth class and auditing a fifth. When I asked how many classes he was taking, he stared off for a moment and replied, "uh, 8 or 9?"

Let me put it another way to make the point clear: He was taking so many classes that he had lost count. At the time, my face scrunched up to say "really, dude?", but I often revisited that conversation in my mind whenever I felt backed up with work. How could I complain when there is a guy taking nearly twice my workload?

Then there is a friend who, like me, came to Booth to switch careers. He worked tirelessly through uncertainty and a number of difficult challenges and setbacks. He ultimately found success, but I could tell the process had taken a toll. Outwardly, he smiled, kept a positive attitude, and said all the right things. In a private moment, he sat down on my couch and let out a tired sigh. He needed to release all the stress that had been brewing, so we talked about our fears and the burden that we both felt to make this thing work.

I told him I felt trapped. As someone switching careers so late in life, I felt there were only a few jobs that made sense. Going into investment banking would give me plenty of financial stability, but I was concerned about its sustainability- particularly when it comes to thinking about family. We met only four months prior, but had grown to a point where we were able to have this deep and meaningful conversation.

These are the things that matter.

Pre-games and birthday parties turned into small group dinners and potlucks where we stopped asking people where they were from and started asking how their parents were doing. We printed ally stickers and dressed in drag to show support for our LGBTQ friends. We met monthly to tell stories that were mostly trivial, but sometimes deeply personal. When tragedy hit back home, we rallied around our classmates.

The program isn't perfect of course. Still, academic institutions have the unique ability to make us smarter and more curious. Business school is even more unique in that frequent interactions with a diverse group of people help make us more conscious and self-aware. In short, we have become better people.

So, to the Class of 2015: we have accomplished a lot during our time here. We should be proud of the work we've done and the ways in which we have pushed and supported each other. To you I simply say: thank you.

Jason will miss thinking about potential graduation speeches after he graduates