[VIDEO] Why life matters

If you’re sitting in the audience at a business school graduation, you expect to hear the students being told to go out into the world and build big companies and achieve mighty financial things, right?

Those sitting in the audience at the recent commencement at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota instead heard MacLaurinCSF fellow Austin Hermann remind them that business has a higher purpose:

The year is 2075. You are in the hospital, your family surrounds you, you are on your death bed and you are looking back on your life and reflecting. You ask yourself this question:  “Did it matter?”

As I was thinking about what to say today, my mind instantly gravitated towards the word “purpose.” What was the purpose of the last four years? …..

I confess that answering that question was a huge struggle for me, for at least the first two years of college. Not only was I having a hard time with that question, but more specifically, the question of why the Carlson School of Management? Why business? What does it mean to be a business student? What does it mean to study business? No one goes into college their freshman year claiming they want to analyze businesses. No one goes into college knowing that they want to “manage and build brands” or analyze cash flow. It’s much easier to say you are going to be a doctor or teacher or engineer…..

And then I went to Africa. And everything changed, because I met that 2075 moment sooner than I had expected. I was forced to answer the question, “Did it matter?” You see, almost a year ago today, I found myself in a remote part of southern Tanzania, suffering from a severe case of Malaria. In fact, I nearly died. 

Hermann recovered, but with a renewed sense that his life and his future career were about more than himself:

The perspective flips from, “What experiences can I get? How much wealth can I accumulate? How much money can I make? What kind of car do I want to drive, how big of a house can I afford?


“How many people can I welcome? What good can I do? How much can I give away? How many people can I genuinely engage with and be present with?”

It transformed the way he viewed his business degree. He charged his fellow students to remember

….that today we join the ranks of about 7 percent of all people globally that have the education and backing of a college degree, and from this position we stand prepared, to go off into the world and use all we have and know for meaningful use….

When you look at business as a way of serving, and giving, and putting others first, it becomes such a gift to the world. Fundamentally, business is people helping people. Business can be an avenue of love, business is how I can restore and redeem broken parts of this world, to do good, create value and meaning, employment and improving people’s lives — it’s about solutions and growth and creativity — that is NOT idealism — that is what business DOES, and if I could go back and tell my freshman year self why I was in the business school that is what I would say.

You can read the rest of Hermann’s commencement speech here, or watch it below.   How would your life be transformed if you viewed what you were doing as an avenue of love?

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Image: “Gift House” by Howard Dickins, used under a Creative Commons license.

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