Dear 2020 Graduates,
Congratulations on your academic achievements. Your family, community and millions around the globe are cheering you on to find meaningful purpose on your life’s journey. I gave the 2019 commencement speech below with the desire it would spark graduates to pursue their purpose.
Let me know your hopes, dreams and concerns, and what if anything in my speech resonates with you – and what I missed too. I hope to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sending my heart to all of you.
Katz School of Science and Health Commencement Speech
May 15, 2019
Thank you, Dean Russo, for your kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to speak in front of the graduates today.
Graduates, it is my honor to be here. A huge congratulations to each of you!
My name is Cary Broussard. — I am excited to tell you a little bit about how I strive to live my purpose – to create workplaces with integrity open communication and provide the best opportunities, equally, for all.
My work requires courage, conviction and a strong voice — but I promise you I was not always so courageous. I’ve taken some big risks, had many “aha moments” and definitely relied upon the deep support of others, things I believe we all need – in order to be successful and live our purpose. Today, I'd like to share a different part of my story — the part before I became the owner of a successful business, an author and speaker.
Looking back now, I always believed my parents really, really wanted a boy. You see, I was their 4th girl. When their 5th child, my little brother was born, they finally got their boy! I probably had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and was more than a tiny bit jealous.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved being a girl. I went to all-girls’; grade school and high school. But I was also impacted by society’s underlying expectations of women — pervasive myths and beliefs that tell girls and women that we should remain small, quiet, and doubt our own voice and value.
When I entered college, I had not attended class with boys since kindergarten, which was a big stretch of my life. I was literally afraid to raise my hand in my college classes because there were boys in every one of my classes – for the first time.
This experience was a pivotal moment for me: How could I grow to my full potential when I was afraid to speak in front of men? How could I provide for myself and be successful in the work world when I was taught never to discuss money? It was clear to me that I had a lot of unlearning to do.
I also realized very quickly that I was not the only one with these feelings I had; so many other women experienced this too. When I attended my first global women’s conference and met women from all over the world, I discovered that we were raised with similar values. I listened to women from India and Japan and elsewhere describe how they grew up and their family’s and society’s expectations of them. While values like honesty, integrity, and faith were universal — all of us had also been taught to let the boys win, to not be too ambitious, and to never discuss money.
And myths like these don’t just impact women.
We place unrealistic expectations on men, too – expecting men to be the only breadwinner, to be tough and never weak, to never show what we call “feminine” traits like nurturing, collaboration and empathy.
More broadly most of us have internalized limiting beliefs about ourselves and about people we perceive as different from us. We do this across race, across gender, across nationality, ethnicity, age, religion — and I’m sure you can think of many more.
I knew that these beliefs about women and men not only sounded old school crazy, but they were holding societies back in significant ways with huge personal and societal costs.
Undoing these myths became my personal and professional mission. But putting this conviction into practice took time and required me to take big risks.
When I first entered the business world, I quickly saw how these myths not only impacted individuals — but also major business decisions. When businesses neglect to consider women’s buying power, or the buying power of any underrepresented group, they miss out on enormous potential markets. And when leadership operates without valuing collaboration, inclusion, and empathy for all — great ideas are simply lost in the competitive shuffle.
When I was a mid-level director in a hospitality company, I was smitten with the idea of marketing to women travelers. Since this was late 1995, (although the year could easily be 2020), many inside the company thought the women’s market was too small and inconsequential to pursue. Many of my peers and several higher-ups
simply did not think marketing to women was a good idea; men were the majority of our travelers, after all.
Many said our competition would be laughing at us (come to find out – Sheraton, Hilton and other big brands actually did think it was a silly idea). Internally, one executive nicknamed me — VP, “in charge of skirts” — a nickname I did think was pretty funny, but it was also intended to diminish the significance of my efforts.
This is the thing about taking risks and challenging conventions — no matter what issue you choose to tackle: not everyone will be on your side, especially at the start. And you will have a choice to make. You can give up in the face of opposition, you can cave into your opponents’ negativity, or you can stand firm in your convictions, arm yourself with facts and allies, and press on. You can strive to exercise empathy and understand your adversary’s point of view, and you can challenge that point of view by presenting smart, clever, and brave solutions.
Sure, there will be times you won’t win this way, at least temporarily, but it does not have to be the end of the story. You can learn from your mistakes and come back stronger than before. And more often than not, you may find that the adversary may prove to be an unexpected and important ally in the end, especially when you go out of your way to treat them well. It’s quite an accomplishment of character to hold your head up even if you are maligned or double-crossed — This quality of character is incredibly valuable in the long-run.
When I encountered push back — and even anger — I diffused it with facts and with a sense of humor. My team and I gathered research that proved marketing to women was a smart strategy financially. I was driven. And over time, I began to gain supporters — eventually hundreds of supporters. Women began thanking us with their letters and emails and most importantly with their business — and media began covering our work. I knew we were onto something, even though many remained suspicious.
And through this, I began to see that support and collaboration are the antidotes to the status quo, the most important ingredients for making change.
The idea of marketing to women business travelers required a team of advocates outside of my organization and inside as well. I needed to find people who could mentor me, who believed in my idea, and who were willing to work with me on it internally as well.
I was given the freedom to design my own job and hand pick an external advisory board of women travelers to help us craft the right brand strategy. We had a great research team to provide the data on women business travelers and the data showed their numbers were increasing rapidly. Women brought a fresh perspective. And the real “aha” moment came when we realized women were both willing to pay more and stay more loyal to the brand than their male counterparts. In the end, our brand grew and the industry was transformed because women spoke up and shared their ideas with us.
This all took place very quickly and added millions to the bottom line. The idea soon attracted great supporters, and a seemingly simple PR and marketing idea began to bring forth a major shift in our industry.
The women on the advisory board became my mentors; even today, many of those same women continue to support me in my career. I still call on them today. They stay in touch with me and we keep up with each other’s families. Through this mutual support, we to this day continue to take each other higher. Our relationships are reciprocal and long-lasting.
This is the value of leading with inclusion, collaboration, and empathy – it allows you to see wider than you yourself can see, and therefore to
meet a broader set of needs. It makes you better — as a person and for your bottom-line. And it gives you the courage to persevere even in the face of opposition and doubt — because you have support built in along the way.
I believe our unique stories — and perhaps especially, our unique challenges — present ripe opportunities for brilliance. The distinct experiences and perspectives that we each bring to the table are often the exact things that we can offer up to make the world a better place.
Through our women traveler initiative, I gained my voice, my mentors, and the basis for my book and so much of my work today — and to think it all started because I was afraid to raise my hand in class.
For me, it started with an awareness of how women’s voices were being limited in the world — because this was my experience, my story.
But the lesson is universal, and the question becomes: What do your unique experiences, perspective, and idiosyncrasies teach you about the world’s deepest needs? What risks will you decide to take? And how will you find your supporters?
I’ll tell you — your classmates and your faculty are a very good place to begin.
It takes tremendous courage and perseverance to bring new ideas forward, and that’s why it is so critical that we all support and make room for one another — regardless of gender, race, nationality, religious background, level of experience, or other distinguishing characteristics.
The world is in desperate need of all of our best ideas, innovations, and world-changing efforts.
We don’t have the luxury to allow one person’s brilliance to remain silent because he or she is afraid to speak up; now is the time to take risks and to support each other.
And as more and more women and men flourish by supporting, cooperating, and boosting each other up, we all win. And together, we will begin to undo the world’s most deep-seated myths about who is a leader, about who is deserving, about whose ideas matter, about who can become CEO, and about who can change the world.
Someone once told me early in my career “Cary, you can do anything you set your mind to.” Those words were like a lightning bolt of
energy. That jolt propelled me forward to write a book, strive to live my fullest life, and continue to reach and achieve my dreams.
Words mean a lot. What you say to someone else sparks change and has the ability to move mountains. Through your words, you each have the power to inspire and support one another.
Use it all! You make your dreams come true!
Congratulations, graduates. And please be well.