May 20, 2019

Busch School of Business Commencement Address

by: Anthony Cannizzaro, Ph.D.

Good morning Class of 2019.  First and foremost, I want to tell you - and I think I speak for all of the faculty on this stage - just how proud we are of each and every one of you.

And to all of you parents, Thank You. We are truly blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know each and every one of your sons and daughters.

For those of you that have had me in class, I would bet half are probably telling yourselves “Oh no, he’s probably going to use this talk to try and drill “economies of scale” into us one more time. The other half probably assume this entire speech will be one long homage to the latest Marvel movie.  Trust me…. I was tempted to try the latter.

The rest of you are probably asking yourselves “who is this guy, and why is he addressing our class”.  I will admit, I am not renowned in industry for my business acumen like Professor Seegers or our most recent hire, Professor Carly Fiorina. I’m not inspiring like Professor Widmer.  I am not wise like Professor Pakaluk.

However, I do believe you and I share something important in common. Like you, I started here at Catholic four years ago.  In fact, my situation was probably similar to yours in many ways. I had a few schools to choose from - that school close to home, another school far far away where the weather is perfect 364 days out of the year.

Then - by chance - I met then-and-soon-to-be-again Dean Abela, who told me about this idea for a new kind business school, a Catholic business school,  trying to do something very different than anyone has done before. A school centered on people, not profits; sainthood, not shareholder wealth; in short, a place where business is the solution, not the problem; where business is a Force for Good.

And like all of you, I was sold.

As I sat at Starbucks on Monroe Street thinking about this amazing experiment we’ve traveled together for the last four years, I realized that you are all probably asking yourselves the very same questions that have been keeping me up at night this past week.

That is: Why me? And what on Earth am I supposed to do now?

Let me start off with “Why You”.

This is a natural question for anyone starting a new job - especially a first job.  Especially today.

According to the Wall Street Journal, you are all entering the hottest job market in fifty years; however, there is a catch.  New careers are no longer something undergraduates easily slide into. The start-up culture now rules. As a result, employers are expecting employees to do more with less and requiring new hires to really hit the ground running.

Well guess what - you’ve all essentially worked at a high-growth start-up for the last four years. Like most start-ups, you began in a space that was not your own. For us, it was not mom and dad’s garage, but the top to floors of McMahon Hall.  

As word spread of your mission, your growth, and your success, investors started to take notice.  Now you graduate having taken your last semester of classes in your new corporate headquarters, the beautifully renovated Maloney Hall.

What did you tell investors to inspire such confidence?  The list is too long to share today, so I will give you the highlights. With Professor Widmer, your class started almost 200 businesses. You’ve had hundreds of internships. You’ve traveled to several continents. You took the opportunity to field a team for the International Business Ethics Competition - and won (by the way, you’re also good role models. Our junior class went back this year, and we won again). Moreover, where opportunities did not exist, you created them.  Over the last four years, you increased the number of business clubs and professional organizations at this school by 50%.

Most importantly, you’ve demonstrated how business can be a Force for Good by turning this campus in the intellectual heart of the DC economy. Scores of you worked tirelessly doing consumer research, defining markets and constructing operating plans for some of the over 100 local DC businesses that partner with the Busch School’s Inner City Capital Connections program.

In short, you’ve done a heck of a lot in the last four years.

So what the heck do you do now?

Let me start by telling you what not to do.  Do not fall victim to the ideology that one journalist at aptly calls “Workism”.  To paraphrase the author, the decline of traditional faith in America has left a hole in our consciousness - one that young college-educated individuals such as yourselves are increasingly filling with over-work. Do not fall into the trap that work for work’s sake is a virtue. Rather, treat work as a vocation - one of many. In work you are called to participate in co-creation with God. There is dignity in work. Work is an end, but it is not the ultimate end - that distinction belongs only to God.

So what should you do?  

As you go out into the world, I ask you each to set aside time - firewall it - to focus on your other vocations. Focus on improving yourselves, your families and friendships, and your society.  

How do you improve yourselves?  

This one is easy - you’ve learned it from day one.  You practice virtue. And I emphasize the word practice.  Virtue is a habit. You have to work hard at it. You have to earn it. Do not rush to decisions, but do not shy away from them. Each hard decision you have to make will make the next easier - you develop practical wisdom - that is the virtue of Prudence.

Do not limit your investment in virtue to the workplace - rather, apply your investment to as many parts of your life as possible (by the way - that is a perfect example of economies of scale).  Practice caring for your body - Set aside time to exercise. Practice caring for your mind - Set aside time to learn something new. Learn a new language; read a book; learn to cook; just step out of your comfort zone.  And most importantly, set aside time for prayer and faith in your daily lives, and guard that time vigorously - in short, practice care for your soul.

How do we improve our families and friendships?

First, cherish those friendships you have made here. In spite of time and distance, work hard to stay in touch.  For those of you that have taken my class - build your guanxi. I promise if you nurture them, you will carry these relationships with you through the rest of your lives.

Second, cherish your family.  Call mom and dad often.  But don't just cherish the family you have. I can tell you from personal experience - do not let career ambition or economic uncertainty discourage you from starting a family of your own.  A common sacrifice young people make on our culture’s altar to workism is the family. It is never too early to start a family, but it can be too late - that’s a scientific fact.  Many of you know that I was recently blessed with a son. Giovanni is the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and there is nothing in my life before him I wouldn’t trade to have known him sooner.

How do you improve society?

This is the hardest of all. I hate to break it to you, but my generation and those before me aren’t making it easy on you.  Trade, democracy and the expansion of free markets over the past 100 years have lifted more people out of poverty than any institution in human history. Yet somehow - we messed it up. You inherit a world in which discredited ideas of populism and socialism are on the rise, and classical liberal institutions are in retreat.  

So what does a better society look like? Pope Leo tells us unequivocally that it does not look like socialism. And history tells us that free markets work. But are then enough? To quote the philosopher Shuri of Wakanda, "Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved."

An improved society protects the liberty of its members; its members care for one another; its institutions promote human flourishing; and at its center - always - is the human person.  In other words, a better society requires subsidiarity, solidarity, the common good, all directed towards human dignity.

So what can you do?

The fact is, you play a critical role in this society.  I ask you to champion these ideals in your work and daily lives, to spread them to your family and friends, and stay engaged in the public discourse. When you do so, promise me you will do three things:

First, remember that those you disagree with have dignity too. Treat them as such.  To paraphrase a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Arthur Brooks, a friend of and frequent presenter at the Busch School, fight back against the “Culture of Contempt”. Do not fall into the trap that you are right, and the other side is stupid or evil. Instead, as Pope Francis tells us, meet people where they are. Respect them, and they will respect you.

Second, stay informed. Read the news - real news. Get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and know what is happening in the world around you.

And lastly, participate in civic life. Get involved in your parishes and your communities. Culture and institutions change slowly, but they do change. And they change from the ground up. Lead by example, and others will follow.

Your work has just begun Class of 2019. You know why you’ve been chosen, and you know what to do. Knowing you all as I do, I’m confident that we are in good hands.

Congratulations, thank you, and may God bless you all.   Good luck.

Valedictorian Speech

By: Jackson Martinez

Good afternoon, Dean Pakaluk, faculty, staff, administrators, family, friends, and fellow graduating seniors of the Busch School Class of 2019.

As I have reflected upon our four years at The Catholic University of America, I have pondered what distinguished our education as business students. Without a doubt, the Busch School’s competitive advantage is its incorporation of Catholic Social Teaching into its curriculum. We often discuss the principles of Catholic Social Teaching as a quartet: human good, common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity. However, my reflection led me to one principle about which we did not learn in nearly the same depth: the call to family, community, and participation. In particular, the importance of the call to family has reverberated in my mind and heart.

I’m certain that for many of us, one or more family members have been pivotal to our journeys as aspiring businesspeople. My own family has been extremely important to my formation. I would like to thank my mother, my father, and my sister for their unceasing love, support, and collective sense of humor. In addition, I would like to thank my grandmother, who could not be here today because of her health. My grandmother is the person who unknowingly inspired my eventual passion for accounting starting when I was eight years old. Through clever incentivizing – namely, a page of a mathematics workbook for a half hour of television – and brilliant pedagogy, my grandmother jumpstarted my love for numbers, such that by the time I had begun the fifth grade, I was well into pre-algebra. My grandmother demonstrated to me the practice of true discernment and the actualization of the call to family. Most importantly, my grandmother indirectly taught me that I was called to be a great businessman second. Through her witness and wisdom, I gradually understood that another vocational call necessarily takes precedence.

In Rerum Novarum, the cornerstone encyclical for modern Catholic social teaching, the Pope who chartered this University asserts the family is both a “true society” and the foundational unit of society in general. For those of us gathered here who the Lord is not calling to the clergy or to religious life – which I would venture to say is most of us – the same duty of cultivating this true society is ours to accomplish. How can we be a force for good not only as savvy businessmen and businesswomen, but as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers? How can we inspire future businessmen and businesswomen in the same manner that our families inspired us? More than that, how can we serve the larger human family as parts of the Body of Christ and, as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Romans, as “individually parts of one another”? God has given each of us specific gifts to support our future families and to serve the human family. May we never neglect or misuse these gifts, but employ them for love of God and love of neighbor.     

Now, as we leave this place and inaugurate whatever the next step is, let us never incorrectly prioritize our vocations. Let us genuinely discern that which the Lord is asking of us and act there from. Let us endeavor to be stellar business people second. The first business class we took here is called “The Vocation of Business”. While I believe it is crucial to understand whatever professions we enter as legitimate vocations, I think it is even more vital that we comprehend that this occupational vocation is secondary. In my case, I hope that if and when the time comes, I can be a great husband and father first and a great accountant second. I pray that with the grace of God, we can discern ardently, prioritize accordingly, and exceed entirely. Thank you.