Was an extraordinary honor to be invited to give the commencement speech for the Class of 2023 at Dwight School Seoul. Below was my message that day.
I’m so very honored to be here with you all on this incredibly special day.
Thank you to the executive committee at Dwight for the invitation to be a part of this. And a special thank you to Anne Choe for the help preparing for today.
I’ll be honest with you – when I first received the invitation from Anne to join your graduation as commencement speaker, I was caught a bit off guard.
First thing that I did was go online and found a video of Dwight’s 2019 graduation ceremony on YouTube. I fast-forwarded to see who was the commencement speaker and saw Harry Harris, the US Ambassador to Korea at that time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Ambassador Harris a couple of times. He’s a great man. And was a great ambassador. And as I saw at that moment, a great commencement speaker.
As I was preparing my remarks for today, I tried to remember my own high school graduation. Lots of great memories with my family. With friends I’m still close to. With friends I haven’t spoken to since that day and yet still remember.
The commencement speaker?
Now granted this took place almost 22 years ago – but the fact of the matter is I literally had no idea who our commencement speaker was or what they said.
I did look it up later – just to make sure we had one. But yea. I will absolutely take no offense if none of you remember me in the year 2045.
With that in mind, I’d like to take a page out of the book from someone that everyone knows and remembers, Steve Jobs. And by taking a page out of his book, I mean completely borrowing the format of his famous commencement speech at Stanford and sharing 3 short reflections.
The first is about time.
Growing up I never thought about time. I assume it was the same for most of you. I was just busy. Busy playing… busy schooling… busy solving the typical growing up problems, but nothing big or extreme – pretty much all the way through college.
After college, I started my first company with a close friend from high school. His name was also Matt. And while we both had the entrepreneurial itch, we also both had college loans which meant holding full time jobs as well. Our company, NJ Digital Designs, was our baby though, and we spent every waking moment not at work building it up.
It was at the age of 23 that I learned the value of time.
On October 24, 2006, Matt died in a car accident. We had plans – so many plans, exciting and ambitious plans – and yet, it all just ended.
Matt’s sudden and tragic death helped me appreciate the fragility of life and forever changed how I thought about time. I started factoring in how I spend it and who I spend it with into everything that I do. And it was this change in mindset that really propelled me forward in both a personal and professional sense – ultimately helping me to find much deeper meaning in both parts of my life.
Next let’s talk about taking chances.
After Matt’s death, I changed the way I approached the opportunities – big or small – that were presented to me. Instead of taking the easier route and simply considering how something might disrupt my daily life, I pushed myself to not only be more open minded but also to remind myself of the limitations of our time. At some point, there is not going to be a later to do whatever it is you were putting off or chose not to do. Or even worse, the people you want to do them with won’t be around.
So yeah, the next year after Matt was crazy.
I got a new job. I started attending graduate school. I ran for public office against people more than twice my age and knocked on over 7,000 doors. I came back to Korea for the first time since my adoption and met my birth family.
Every one of those made me uncomfortable in some way. Some in a lot of ways. I’m certain I never would have done any of them if I didn’t push myself to take chances and more than that, start to follow my passions.
Most of those experiences didn’t work out for the best. The job didn’t last long. I dropped out of graduate school halfway through. I lost the election. In retrospect, it was all for the better as it forced me to go through an incredible amount of personal growth and helped prepare me for the future in ways that I’d only be able to realize a decade later.
I continued to apply this way of decision making throughout the years.
Some of my fondest memories and craziest experiences came about only because I agreed on the spot to move to China with just two weeks' notice to open WeWork in Asia. And there’s no way I would be fortunate enough to be here with you now if I hadn’t agreed to move to Korea with only 24 hours’ notice.
Which brings me to my last and most important point – relationships.
I was told that this year’s class theme is shoot for the stars. As someone from the startup world, I love the thought and ambition. What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that building a company is much more than simply executing against an idea.
None of us could do what we want to do or get where we want to go alone. We all have and develop our network of support over the years, but I’d encourage you to never forget where it all began. Your parents have given you an amazing advantage in life by enrolling you at this tremendous school. And they will always be there as your top cheerleaders and most reliable sympathizers as you go through the ups and downs of life.
So yes, very important reminder – do not forget to call them often when you’re at college.
Speaking of college - have fun at college. Not too much fun but like, definitely have fun. The people you meet at college will most likely be your initial network as you enter the real world. As you continue to go through the numerous jobs and promotions throughout your career, I promise you will see just how small this world is. When you least expect it, your high school and college friends will somehow reappear in your life right when you need them.
In everyone’s personal search for purpose and meaning in their work, one thing that I’ve been lucky enough to observe in countries all over the world during my experience at WeWork is that it’s always the people in their lives that make all the difference. The right people – your people – will always make you better – and more than that, they help you get where you’re supposed to be and build what you’re meant to build. And don’t forget that you’re also someone else’s person – so be helpful, considerate and useful to others whenever possible, and I guarantee the opportunities for your own success will come naturally.
As you all graduate and embark on the next chapter of your life, I’d like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes from Bertrand Russell’s book The Conquest of Happiness that I think sums everything up nicely.
“Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”
I hope that all of you feel absolute confidence to love – to love in both your pursuits of work and in the relationships in your life and that it helps you to find true happiness.
Thank you again and congratulations to the class of 2023!
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