Published on June 18, 2014

Citing massive national debt, the worst recession in a lifetime, and job-stealing technological advances, Austan D. Goolsbee, Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics, posed a dark question to soon-to-be graduates of Chicago Booth.

“Are we doomed?” he asked, to nervous laughter. 

Luckily, his answer, delivered as part of a humor-filled convocation address at Arie Crown Theater on June 14, took an upbeat turn for the 699 students receiving degrees for master of business administration, international master of business administration, and doctor of philosophy. 

“At Booth, you’re not doomed,” he said, “because you’re going the right way.” 

Acknowledging that economists tend to see doom and gloom—“We’re not the most optimistic people in the world”—he said the skills the students attained at Booth will remain in demand in the decades to come. 

“It’s not that we taught you to think,” he said. “You already knew how to think. It’s that we made you think. We made you come here and do the work that needed to be done to fill yourself with content so you are not doomed as you go out into the world.”

The diploma and hooding ceremony drew an audience of more than 5,000 on a warm late-spring day. Babies wore Chicago Booth onesies, and graduates in black robes posed for photos with family members and classmates. At the end of the ceremony, an explosion of maroon and white streamers rained down upon the students.

Kathryn C. Gould, ’78, a physicist turned venture capitalist, delivered the alumni address. Gould co-founded Foundation Capital in Menlo Park, California, and was an early funder of Netflix, among other successful companies.

She encouraged the graduates to “find your obsession,” citing her own journey to Silicon Valley, where she worked at database software leader Oracle Corp. when it was just a $1 million company. She ultimately went on to create her own executive search firm and then her own venture capital firm.

“I had found my obsession,” she said of starting Foundation Capital. “It’s fine to work hard and enjoy your work but better to love what you do so much that you can’t live without it. You think about it 24/7 and you become very, very good at it.”

She had a special word to the female graduates, who made up about one-third of the graduating class. Gould faced obstacles, she said, including not being able to get hired on at a venture capital firm, despite having a record as a top venture capitalist. It’s the reason she started her own firm, she said. “You ambitious women will surely face something like this in your career,” she said. “Just go around it. There is always a way.”

She also rejected the common advice to “live a balanced life.” 

“I just don’t buy that, especially for where you are in life,” said Gould, who retired in 2006 and now owns a California vineyard. “You need to work really hard right now, until you find your obsession and then you’ll work even harder.”

In his remarks, Sunil Kumar, dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Operations Management, urged students to “represent the school well.”

“Following your education at Chicago Booth, may you lead rewarding lives with consequence,” he said. “I hope your time at Chicago Booth helps you define what is both rewarding and consequential to you. At times you may face tradeoffs between the two. May you have the wisdom to choose well.”—Deborah Ziff