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Ken Griffin: Depart To Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind

By Julian J. Giordano
By Kenneth C. Griffin
Kenneth C. Griffin ’89 is the founder, chief executive officer, and co-chief investment officer of Citadel LLC and the namesake of the Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”

This is the charge that Harvard University gives to you. You encounter it every time you pass through Dexter Gate, where those words are inscribed. As a graduate myself, I have read them many times and have spent four decades striving to live up to them.

Now it’s your time to honor the trust that Harvard has placed in you.

Harvard has trained centuries of leaders who have uplifted humanity through science, the arts, business, and politics. Your predecessors committed themselves to active participation in our civic life, serving and sacrificing for the sake of others. Carry the torch that is now being passed on to you and build a future that unites us.

As you embark on this next chapter of your life, give back to our country that has given you so much. Strive to honor the legacies of the remarkable people who graduated from Harvard and wrote our Constitution. Live by the words of John Adams, Class of 1755, who wrote that “Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Gallantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People.”

Live a life for others. Seek to make tangible differences in the lives of those around you by tutoring youth in the inner city, building a business that creates jobs, or running for public office.

Second, support freedom of inquiry. Be ready to constructively debate ideas even in moments of heated disagreement. Engaging people with whom you disagree and pushing yourself to learn from them is the surest path to enlightenment. An ethos of respect for free speech, where all ideas can be debated and considered, is essential to this goal. True progress is fostered by embracing diversity in its highest form: diversity of thought.

Third, trust in your ability to shape your own future. Your intellect and resolve will be the keys to your success. Do not allow the color of your skin, the circumstances of your birth, or any other quality over which you lack control to define your aspirations. If you repudiate the flawed and divisive paradigm of a society split into “the oppressed” and “the oppressors,” and instead embrace the notion that you control your own destiny, you will have the greatest opportunity to excel.

Finally, appreciate the role you play in society as a leader. People will look to you to be constructive in your rhetoric and problem-solving approach. Protesting and shouting sloppy political slogans are beneath you. Channel your passions towards partnerships and persuasion. Societal change will require the buy-in and support of those around you. Coming to the table with a constructive attitude will produce better results than a combative one.

There is serious work ahead of us, and serious people must do it. We cannot afford a generation of activists who gripe about their own situation instead of diligently working to find solutions. And we do not need blind followers who go along with the crowd claiming adherence to rigid and divisive ideologies.

We need leaders and doers who can engage constructively across differences through deliberation and debate, and who understand that our nation’s success has been — and will be — driven by our passion for excellence and a commitment to the public good.

As you prepare to graduate, walk through Dexter Gate one final time. Pay attention to the words that soar above you. As Harvard alumni, you have not just earned a college degree. You have taken upon yourself an obligation to better serve communities and the country that has given you so much.

Kenneth C. Griffin ’89 is the founder, chief executive officer, and co-chief investment officer of Citadel LLC and the namesake of the Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Griffin Financial Aid Office at Harvard College.

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