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Entrepreneurs, Jobs, and the Class of 2014

By Karen Gordon Mills

When I graduated from Harvard in 1975 it rained. Not a sprinkle but a torrential downpour that soaked our robes and our armbands demanding equal admissions for women to Harvard College.

Not only did our big day defy the decades old maxim that it never rains on a Harvard graduation, but the economy was also in a dismal state. In reaction to the oil shocks and gas rationing, the economy had shut down and there were no jobs, even for Harvard grads.

Much like then, today’s jobless recovery is a source of anxiety for many of the Class of 2014. Though Harvard students have a myriad of opportunities and many of you have jobs lined up or plans for graduate or professional school, I am sure that most of you wonder whether the future will be for you and your classmates as secure as you might have once imagined.

If history is any indication, some of the women and men sitting in the Yard on Thursday morning will decide to create their own jobs. Following a great tradition of Harvard graduates (and non-graduates), many will start and grow their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship is America’s secret sauce. We are the envy of other countries as millions of our citizens take risk and open their own startup businesses in pursuit of the American Dream. Entrepreneurship has become a critical part of the American economy, as small businesses create two out of every three net new jobs in this country.

Some of the class of 2014 might take an early route to entrepreneurship. Others could wait until the second half of their life to become “encore entrepreneurs”. In fact, according to the Kauffman Foundation, more people over the age of 55 start new businesses than young people right out of college.

And entrepreneurship is playing an ever more important role in solving society’s most difficult problems across the globe. This is the focus of the work of Tracy Palandjian ’93, (and current Harvard overseer) the co-founder and CEO of Social Finance, which aims to connect the social sector with capital markets.

Whatever your path, now more than ever in our recent history, it is essential that Harvard and its graduates play a leadership role in shaping the future of this country. You can make an important impact as scientists and engineers who make new discoveries and partner with others to turn your innovations into enterprises. Or you can create a new service or program as entrepreneurs and leaders who make a difference in the world by starting businesses and nonprofits.

So, to paraphrase the words of President Drew Faust in her speech last fall in Sanders Theater, opening the capital campaign, here is my wish for the class of 2014:

May Harvard and its graduates today be as wise as they are smart,

as restless as they are proud,

as bold as they are thoughtful,

and as good as they are great.

Karen Gordon Mills ’75 served in President Barack Obama's cabinet as head of the Small Business Administration. In July, she will become a member of the Harvard Corporation.

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