2008 Graduation - Doctoral Convocation

Giacomo Oliva, Distinguished Alumni

Provost McLaughlin, Dean Brabeck, Assistant Dean Sagner, members of the Steinhardt School administration and faculty, honored graduates, alumni, family, and friends… Let me begin by thanking you all for selecting me to receive this prestigious award. It is indeed an honor for me to be here, to recall and reflect upon my days at NYU, and to share a few thoughts with you this evening.

In preparing my remarks, I found myself thinking back twenty-eight years, to the day that I defended my dissertation, and to how I felt when the two-hour ordeal finally concluded and I was addressed as "Dr. Oliva," signaling to me that it was time to open the champagne and that my defense had been successful. As you might expect, I was quite pleased and impressed with myself, so much so that I spent the next few days contacting everyone I knew to share both the exciting good news and the sense of relief I was feeling that my degree was now completed.

One of the people I called was a close friend and mentor, who after offering his congratulations, made sure he did not miss the chance to turn the occasion into a teaching moment by reminding me that this accomplishment, important as it was, did not signify an end, but rather a beginning, and that with this title of "Doctor" would come new and enhanced levels of responsibility that would remain with me throughout my career. From this point forward, he said, people would often be looking to me for answers to the complex questions, and for solutions to problems, and to challenges that others were not inclined to undertake. "You will have increasing opportunities to exercise leadership," he said, adding "but leadership is not always about being in charge, and it will be up to you to figure out just what that means as you move ahead with your work. Whatever you do, don't miss the chance to make a difference!"

Each of you here this evening has worked long and hard to achieve the goal of a doctoral degree. You have no doubt made many sacrifices along the way, and during the tough times, have probably asked yourself more than once whether or not the struggle was really worth the effort. Well rest assured, the journey is now over, and the rewards, your diploma and your new title, await you. Accept them eagerly and with pride, for you certainly have earned them. In doing so, however, be just as eager and just as proud to accept the responsibilities that come with them. For tomorrow you will move out of the narrowly-focused and often confining environment of the doctoral student into a highly complex and fragile world, in which leadership is sorely needed, and in which there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for those who want to step up to the plate and make a difference.

Knowing your own strengths, interests and passions, consider how that leadership might take shape for you. Take your first steps by enlarging your boundaries to consider the significance of your work in a much broader context. The world outside the academy is not one of silos, of academic disciplines, divisions, or colleges, so be willing to explore and build new relationships that will enable you to collaborate, rather than compete with, your colleagues. Harness the discipline, skills and new knowledge that you have acquired as a result of your studies to see and understand a bigger picture than the one you have been viewing up until now, a picture that might very well illuminate interesting possibilities for connecting your work with that of others.

Be a strong role model for your colleagues, for your students, and for those who might be in a position to observe your work. Andrew Carnegie once said, "As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do." Consider the power of those words in terms of the various meanings that others will take from your efforts and accomplishments and the ways in which you interact with those around you.

Put service at the top of your priority list, and approach each new task and challenge with something in your hand to contribute and share with others, rather than with an empty hand, asking what might accrue to you for all of your efforts. Giving of your time, talents, and leadership will enable you to not only give back to your institution, your profession, and your community, but to also interact with as wide a sphere of individuals as possible as you move forward with your work. Many of those individuals, because of their new awareness of what you are doing and your passion for doing it, may someday be interested in and willing to support you in your efforts.

And finally, be as flexible possible, and keep your options open. Today's seemingly unsolvable problem might very well be tomorrow's interesting and challenging opportunity, and you will never quite know when or how you might be called to embrace it. To ensure that you are ready when that call comes, imagine that my mentor will be accompanying you as you cross the stage this evening. As you receive your doctoral hood, you are likely to hear him ask, "Are you ready to lead and to make a difference?" And how will you respond?

My thanks, congratulations and warmest best wishes to your all!