Lagarde Discusses Changing Nature of Leadership at HKS Class Day

Christine M. O. Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, spoke about seizing leadership opportunities in a changing geopolitical world order in her speech to graduating students at Harvard Kennedy School’s Class Day on Wednesday.

A former lawyer, an Olympic synchronized swimmer, and an international figurehead for her influential role in the realm of global finance, Lagarde was introduced by Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 as a “rock star” before she took the stage. He added that, as the first female finance minister of France and the first female managing director of the IMF, she is “someone who understands intimately the complexity of challenges facing our world today.”

Her speech was a combination of hopeful well-wishes and bracing realism.

“You are now ready to bring your incredible talent and enthusiasm to bear on the world,” Lagarde said. However, she tempered her praise, challenging the class, “Will you have the courage to desire and even demand a better world to leave to your children?”

She echoed the words of John F. Kennedy '40, the namesake of the school from which the students are graduating, by declaring this time to be “a special moment in history for a next Great Generation to emerge.”

She urged the graduating class to use their social networking skills to move forward together on longstanding problems. When she mentioned equal opportunity for women, she received enthusiastic applause and cheers.

“It won’t be easy,” she warned, “but it will be impossible if we don’t stand and act together as global citizens of this world.”

Despite the fact that members of the audience would be pursuing different career paths after Commencement, Lagarde said that she was optimistic that all of them would make efforts to better the world around them.

Whether they would be working in the public or private sector, Lagarde said, “All in [their] own way would be advancing the public interest.”

Saurabh Saluja, a student at the Kennedy School and the Medical School, said that he appreciated that Lagarde’s speech applied to graduates going into a wide range of fields.

“You can expect that interconnectedness and global confrontation even inside a New York hospital” like the one that he will be working in this fall, he said.

“It was a great speech, reflective of both her life journey and our journey ahead,” said Asim Jahangir, a graduating Kennedy School student. “We were presented with the challenges that we’ll face and [made] excited about them, something that really resonates with Kennedy students.”

—Staff writer Katya M. Johns can be reached at kjohns@college.harvard.edu.

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