A Call to Graduates: Find Your Purpose

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A Call to Graduates: Find Your Purpose

It’s graduation season, which means young people all over the world are looking ahead and imagining what part they will play in the future. Those graduating university are saddled with a lot of unknowns, yet as they hold their diplomas in one and throw their caps in the sky with the other, there is a contagious sense of possibility.


Each year there are a lot of messages out there for grads, many of which apply to us all. A good commencement speech can be a powerful opportunity for grads to gain perspective on the world they will soon be navigating. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as my personal advice to grads.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Tells Graduates Their Values Do Matter

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the commencement speech at George Washington University. The core of his message was to urge graduates to follow their values and find a job that helps them do good in the world.

Cook shared a story about his first visit to the nation’s capital in 1997 when he was 16 years old. There he met with President Carter and his home-state’s governor, George Wallace of Alabama.


George Wallace is remembered for his 1963 inaugural address where he called for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” And while Cook shook his hand, he felt that it was a betrayal of his own beliefs.

He then shook President Carter’s hand, and it felt very different. It became clear to him that one was right and one was wrong. Carter was compassionate and kind, and even with the most powerful job in the world, he had not sacrificed any of his humanity.

Cook says:

We believe that a company that has values and acts on them can really change the world. And an individual can too. That can be you. That must be you. Graduates, your values matter. They are your North Star. Otherwise it’s just a job — and life is too short for that. … You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever.

Your challenge is to find work that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and lets you do what is right and good and just.

I believe focusing on values is absolutely vital. Values give us our sense of purpose. When we align with our values on a daily basis, we have more energy and feel more fulfilled because we are using what is important to us to in all that we do. When we don’t align with our values, we feel less authentic and become demotivated about our daily lives. This is also a key element to successful leadership—one where success is measured with more than wealth and power.

Sallie L. Krawcheck Asks Grads, What’s Your Gutsy Move?

Along similar lines, Sallie L. Krawcheck, the former president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America and recent owner of the global women’s network 89 Broad, asked grads of Columbia Business School—what is your meaning and purpose?

Krawcheck explained that a particular strength in the generation of the graduating class is that so many of them are demanding that their work be more than work. She sees this generation as refusing to believe that they can’t marry working with giving back. Meaning and purpose is integrated in all that they do.


With the increased opportunity for this generation to start their own companies, Krawcheck urges grads to build businesses that reflect their own ideas, values, mission and purpose. This is particularly notable for those graduating from Columbia Business School for they are “at the very center of business.”

Krawcheck ends her speech with important questions:

I have a friend, Vernice Armour, who asks a question that I always love: “What’s your gutsy move?”

I would add to that, on this day of graduation and new beginnings: “What’s your impact going to be? What’s your meaning and purpose? What’s your point of difference? What’s your gutsy move?”

Krawcheck’s focus on being entrepreneurial, embracing diversity, and insisting on purpose speaks perfectly to the future of work. The very fabric of the workforce will be different—acting more like an ecosystem than a pyramid. Navigating this will require an entrepreneurial spirit—one that does not ask for permission—just makes things happen. And with former minorities becoming the majority, diversity will become unavoidable and absolutely must be treated in accordance to what it is—a true asset. With an education in hand, these grads have all they need to support and create purpose-driven organizations—a major trend in the future of work.

Tie Yourself To Purposeful Work

Another key aspect to the future of work will be the ability to work anywhere. I share the significance of this in my advice to graduates in, “Why Passion is the Future of Work: HR Leaders’ Best Advice for Grads” on Cornerstone:

Thanks to technology, we can now work anywhere we want. Work will be tying itself to you, wherever you are, on every device, at any time. So make sure you find purposeful, meaningful work that matters to you and tie yourself to that first.

Loehr Tie

What all of these messages have in common is the call for a movement toward values and purpose in the working world. Cook emphasizes that we no longer have to choose between doing good and succeeding. He believes a company that has values can truly change the world. Krawcheck tells grads that they have more opportunity to start their own businesses than ever before in history. That opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep purpose at the very center of business, and insist that it’s possible to make a difference while making profits. Perhaps universities need to add a course called “Find Your Purpose” to the general education requirements?

Happy graduation to all graduates—from kindergarten to college! It’s an exciting time for all of you.

What is your advice for grads? Leave us a comment below, tell me on email or find me on Twitter .


Photo of graduates by Ian Norman

Read the full article on Tim Cook’s commencement speech on Huffington Post–> Apple CEO Tim Cook Urges GWU Graduates To Develop Moral Compass

Read Sallie L. Krawcheck’s commencement speech on Ellevate–> Columbia Business School Commencement Speech

Read my advice to grads and more on Cornerstone Blog–> Why Passion is the Future of Work: HR Leaders’ Best Advice for Grads

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