This past spring, as I was contemplating the commencement speech I would soon deliver to our graduates, the word that readily came to mind was “conflict.”
To say these are turbulent times is an understatement. The divisive presidential election, Brexit, terrorism, the increasing confusion about globalism…the list goes on.
But “conflict” does not provide a way forward — for our bright, young, eager graduates, nor for those of us who are a bit more experienced.
What I charged our graduates with, and what I come back to even in times of uncertainty, are the words that drew us all to this great University and College to begin with: “The primary function of commerce is service to mankind. Business has a code of ethics based very largely on divine principles. When this code is followed, commerce can and does advance civilization. When it is overlooked by selfish interests, individual or national, every sort of injustice, from petty thievery to world war, may result.”
These are the words of the mission of the Mendoza College of Business, charged by its founding dean, John Cardinal O’Hara in 1921. Here we are today, just four years short of our 100th anniversary, and these are the words that still engrave our pathway.
The words serve to remind all of us — students, alumni, faculty, staff and others — that regardless of condition or circumstance, we have two touchstones, as it were, to anchor and guide us. Or as I put it to our graduates, we should remember two points in addressing our future: The big C, and the small C. The Cs refer, of course, to the same word — Catholic.
Mendoza College of Business is the business school of the University of Notre Dame, the finest Catholic institute of higher education in the world. That’s “Catholic” with a big C. What makes us distinct is that for four years, we immerse our students in a faith mission that says, you can change the world, and you must. Serving is what we all are called to do.
I have often said that we — the faculty and administrators of Mendoza — would not be doing our jobs if we merely provided students with a toolbox of business skills, and did not teach them how to use these skills to make a difference.
The primary function of business is to serve the human community. Business can be a force for good in society. We — our students, alumni, faculty, staff — are that force for good that Father O’Hara referred to all of those years ago. This is the part of our vision that never changes.
Which leads to my second point: Remember the small c — catholic, as in universal.
Our mission involves nurturing a commitment to serving the greater good. This means expanding horizons, not contracting. To be catholic with a small c means to be all embracing of the world’s great diversity and complexity, even when that involves looking past our self-interest.
Business is global. Corporations are multinational, and they drive the economies and employment of all the nations of the world.
And the needs are global. Hunger, poverty, violence and disease afflict billions across the world and in our own communities. The challenges can seem overwhelming, and they are. And each one of us, no matter how smart, talented or well-educated, has a limit to what any individual can accomplish alone.
In those times, we must never forget the reason we are here at Notre Dame. Our mission has always been to impact the world for the better through business.
These are confusing times. Even revolutions in technology, which have improved our quality of life on almost every front, have also disrupted livelihoods as well as deeply established and often cherished traditions. But I can only repeat the charge I gave to our graduates:
Raise your sights and enlarge your vision.
Do not be content with what or whom you know at any moment in time.
Seek ever to cross new borders.
College never was intended to be an experience that makes a person’s world smaller, or to encourage a narrow view.
Instead, our challenge is to go forward with our faith and our all-embracing spirit — the big C and the small c — to forge a better way for all.
We are the business school of the University of Notre Dame. We can teach no different message.
Roger D. Huang
Martin J. Gillen Dean
Kenneth R. Meyer Professor of Global Investment Management