In May, I delivered the commencement address to Mendoza graduates that borrowed its theme from the encyclical issued by Pope Francis, called “Laudato Si’: Caring For Our Common Home.” As you probably know, the encyclical is a beautifully written, inspirational call for us to see environmental change as a spiritual and moral imperative.
The actual title of my talk, though, was a little different. It was, “Laudato Si’: Get a Job.”
Now, you might think those two things don’t go together. That high-minded concepts such as saving the planet is incongruous with getting a job, unless it’s a job with the Red Cross or Greenpeace.
But my point was that in the working world our students were about to enter, caring for the greater good – for the world’s poorest people, for the environment, for societal problems such as violence and education – should be part and parcel with how a person makes a living, regardless of the job itself.
Once upon a time, most people envisioned their lives in neat little categories – home, work, church, community – with maybe something left over for volunteering for a favorite charity. Corporations were much the same; philanthropy or charity was an add-on activity, not a strategic goal integrated into their operations.
But this view is changing.
The new vision put forward by Pope Francis reaffirms that the only way that significant, impactful change will come about is if we grasp a simple truth:
Everything is connected.
Let me quote briefly from the encyclical:
“We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.
“Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.”
This message should sound familiar to our students and alumni, for the thought that economics or business is integral to solving societal and environmental problems is the cornerstone of our educational mission at Mendoza.
There is a plaque in our atrium just outside the Jordan Auditorium with this statement by our founding dean, John Cardinal O’Hara, CSC,: “The primary function of commerce is service to mankind.”
The purpose of business, in other words, is first and foremost to impact society for the better.
We have held numerous events at Mendoza that expose our students to this philosophy in real life. In fall 2015, for example, we hosted the Notre Dame Climate Investing Conference, which brought in hundreds of some of the foremost thought leaders on sustainability in the world.
We offer our signature course, Foresight in Business and Society, which provides students with specific tools and frameworks to understand the big picture so that they can help plan for a better future in an informed, intelligent way.
There are many other examples of classes and projects and professors, who have urged students to think about how to use business know-how to impact the world for the better.
At that moment in time, however, those things were about to be part of the graduates’ past. But as they prepared to enter real life, I reminded them of an important never-ending responsibility that applies to us all:
We have a spiritual and moral imperative of our faith to accomplish one thing above all – to care. And I don’t mean “to care” in a figurative, unformed, emotional way. What I mean is, make it your job to care.
Whether you have a career as a CPA working for one of the Big Four accounting firms, or work as a stock trader on Wall Street, or become a business school dean, “Laudato Si’” helps us to understand that we all not only have the responsibility to change things for the better, but we have the ability to do so.
We care about a great many things. Our homes, our health, our families. The environment, human rights, world peace, crime in our neighborhoods. We care about the refugee crisis, and the terrible toll of terrorism across the world. We care about the working poor in our country, and the fact that children in our communities go to bed hungry. We care about whether that drop in the stock market could mean we might be laid off from our job.
The list goes on and on.
But caring will not amount to more than self-indulgent emotion unless we actually act on it. Both in our private lives, but perhaps just as importantly, in our professional lives.
We must make it our jobs to care, and we must make our jobs about caring.
If we do this, we will effect real, lasting change in the world, and move the needle of human progress forward if even by a micron.
In Notre Dame,
Roger D. Huang
Martin J. Gillen Dean
Kenneth R. Meyer Professor of Global Investment Management