Remarks by Maria Eitel


It is such an honor to receive this distinguished degree
But the real reason I’m here,
Is you, the graduating class of 2012

Because YOU leave here today equipped to do the most important thing in the world: have impact.

Impact? Yeah, yeah ... it’s such an OVER-used word.

You’ve heard it all before ...

Have impact on your bottom line, on your community
on the environment.

But just like saying … ‘I love you’ ...
when it is real, IMPACT is powerful.

So what’s unique about Babson graduates…
and your potential for impact?

Babson is known for creating great entrepreneurs.

I grew up with a Dad who is an entrepreneur through and through.

He taught me the same thing you’ve learned here at Babson

Entrepreneurs do not have a burning passion to maintain the status quo.

Entrepreneurs thrive on invention…
Creating things others can’t imagine.

They’re not satisfied with the way things are in a business, an industry, or the world.

“Good enough” is NEVER good enough.

The entrepreneur’s job…YOUR JOB …
is to write the future.

So you’re probably thinking, oh yeah, I know . . .
But right now what I REALLY want...

13 employees, 18 months and $1 billion dollar buy-out.

You want to be the next Instagram.
It’s the entrepreneur’s dream

Well, what if I said impact doesn’t come from a 2-year business plan.

It’s about the 100-year business plan.

That’s right, a one-hundred year business plan.

Who knows, some of you may be around in 100 years – probably not.

But that’s exactly my point…
Because YOUR business plan should OUTLIVE YOU.

If the post-recession world has taught us anything…
It’s that taking the long view is the path to lasting impact.

When we focus only on the quick wins . . .
The biggest, most pressing issues of our time do NOT get solved.

Years ago, the titans of industry built empires…
Then retired and blazed their names across libraries and hospitals.

I want YOU to do just the opposite.

Oh no, you may be thinking.
Now she’s going to tell us to join the Peace Corps or an NGO.

NOT at all.

Start your own business . . .
Take a leadership position in an important organization ...
Learn how the world really works…
How power and change really happen…
And seek to have your impact wherever you are

It’s not an either-or…profit or non-profit decision.

And today, it’s not about WAITING to make those millions and THEN “giving back."

The world needs YOU,
to go out and tackle the big issues NOW...

Build your 100-year business plan
that looks for ways to DISRUPT what’s wrong . . .
and amplify what’s right.

Like acupuncture, you need to find those critical spots…
And put the right pressure in the right place.

Build businesses that are competitive and fair . . .
Inclusive and ethical….
Move your business forward AND upward…
Then move your industry.

Now, one of the many things you have to look forward to in your future is going on job interviews.

In every interview I ask candidates the same three questions.

And I ask these questions because I believe they define that person’s ability to have impact—
in that job, and in the world.

OK, first question:
Now pay attention, because you’re going to have to answer it.

What gets you angrier…
Gets your blood pumping…
More than anything in the world?

I’ll give you 10 seconds to think.
What gets you angrier than anything in the world.

Alright now.

Second question:
What makes you insanely happy?
You’ve got 10 SECONDS

OK, NOW, I guess the game’s up
And I actually have to answer my own questions

What gets ME worked up
are systems that exclude girls and prevent women from realizing their potential.

I grew up in an incredible Greek-American family.
I benefited from a strong mother…
And so many GOOD things about my unique culture and family.

But, like most traditional cultures, there are some negatives...

When I was 6 years old, I thought I was up for the biggest job available:

Altar boy at church.

"Not possible", our very dear priest informed me.
Awkwardly explaining,
“Maria, you are not a boy…"

I’m still angry about it.

Well, not really,

But seriously, that IS where it started for me.

Where did it start for you?

What goes to your core?

What do you want to set right in the world?

Now...question two:

What makes me INSANELY HAPPY?

Well, I’ve spent a lot of time with people
Who were born and grew up into a life without self worth . . .

People who cower…
And don’t have the confidence to look you in the eye.

The insanely happy moment FOR ME comes when…
Right before your eyes…
The light goes on in their spirit

The moment when they realize that they CAN DO IT
They are VALUABLE…

THAT rocks my world . . .

In 2004 I met Kidan in Tigray, Ethiopia.
She was 9 years old…
Full of passion, ambition, raw smarts and a big smile.

She told me she would become a doctor.
I could quickly see that she would be an amazing doctor.

Later that day, I spoke with her mother…
Who told me bluntly…
Kidan will never become a doctor.

Her marriage is soon, she said
In exchange for her, we will get FOUR COWS.

That is the PERNICIOUS cycle of lost potential for girls in poverty.

It’s not about excluding boys
If anything, we need men and boys to be champions of girls

As the mother of every child born into poverty
She either BREAKS or PERPETUATES the grinding cycle of poverty

Investing in a girl propels her out of poverty
AND she brings her family, community, and country with her.

For me, that is IMPACT.
That is my north star.
That is the work of the Nike Foundation.

We call it the Girl Effect…
A movement for everyone to unleash the potential of those 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty today.

My 100-year business plan…

To put them at the center of a model
that will help end global poverty…
By stopping it before it starts.

Crazy? Wildly ambitious? Yes.
Will WE get it done? I BELIEVE we will.
Like every good entrepreneur…
I believe in our IMPOSSIBLE business plan.

But the road here hasn't been direct or as clear
as it looks on my resume.

And just in case you get the wrong impression that people like me…
Who get to stand on a stage like this…
With big titles …
Aren't just like you and didn't sit in your seat…
With the same kinds of feelings, hopes, fears, and ambitions.

Early in MY career…
I made the ABSOLUTELY brilliant career move…
Of following my college boyfriend to Montreal…

I spent a career-propelling year…
Translating medical supply catalogs…
From English to French AND French to English ...
In his parent's basement.

Careers are littered with good and bad DECISIONS….
The bad ones just don't make it onto the resume…
And frankly some are pretty darn embarrassing.

What matters is that you have a north star…
Or for those of you from the southern hemisphere…
A southern cross…
That guides you.

Now, the third question I always ask job candidates. . .

What makes you AMAZING?

When I say amazing, I’m not talking about in the traditional sense.

You were the star tennis player or the president of the debate team

What makes you UNIQUELY amazing?

Whatever that is…
That’s the key to your 100-year business plan.

When you can answer that question for yourself…
You can apply that passion to having IMPACT.

I’M all about creating a path to POSITIVE DISRUPTION.

Instigating change without blowing everything up . . .
Being able to move a big system
So the change is SUSTAINABLE and REAL.

I'm not a "do-gooder.”

But I AM fierce about changing her reality
Girls like Kidan should get to sit in seats like yours today…
Bursting with ambition and possibility.
Not facing another grinding day of lost potential.

So, what makes YOU amazing?

If you don't know…
Or if it doesn't make the world a better place…

Then stop thinking about yourself
and turn to those around you

A month ago, our team had a global offsite.
I asked everyone to find me at some point in the week and tell me…
What makes them AMAZING.

Now, the Brits on the team, politely scrunched their noses and informed me…
that they "don't do that kind of thing.”
But they eventually came around.

Kemi, on our Nigeria team…
working in an area bombs disrupt our work on a regular basis.
Was bursting to share what makes her amazing.

"I will never stop until I find a solution.
That’s what makes me amazing."

And I know she will…
She knows her amazingness…
And is flexing that muscle every day.
That's how to have impact.

THEN a young intern on the team came up and asked…
“Maria, do I have to do the What makes me amazing thing?"

Yes, I said, interns are people too.

At first, she said she didn’t know yet.
But when pushed, she got TO it. Absolutely fantastic.

OK, so you're a graduate today
You have a degree from this prestigious, incredibly high-energy college

Now the real work - and real reward - begin.

You will encounter limits. And that's fine,
as long as they AREN’T self-imposed.

I've gone full force into work AND life
I've been a sister, daughter, friend,
and mom to my amazing daughter Alexandra

I didn't make the choice between family and career.
And it has taught me that fundamentally it isn't an either/or.

Yes, it is hard work and there are sacrifices -
but that’s life

whether you choose the challenges
or the challenges choose you

So, in closing.

I offer you a choice, today.

Do you want to be PART OF the system or DISRUPT it?

I'm not calling for revolutionaries that break everything up.

What this world needs are revolutionaries that come from within and… Positively disrupt what isn't working and make it better.

Go out and design a new world…
A better world.

Take what makes you angry…
And what makes you insanely happy…
And put them together with your AMAZINGNESS…
And the amazingness of those around you…
In your 100-year business plan.

And please, before you go to sleep tonight…
Promise me you will tell someone you love why YOU are amazing.

But not just you graduates.
To everyone here,
parents, grandparents, siblings…
And irrationally committed friends…
You too.

Today we celebrate the achievements of these amazing students.

The future is yours.
Create it.

Be courageous
Be bold
Be wildly ambitious…
And please, have A LOT fun along the way.

If you do…If we ALL do…
We will have a much, much better world.
Thank you.