Knowns and Unknowns
To the Class of 2020, let me start by saying that I so wish I could personally hand you your hard-earned degree today on Flagler Court. We will get to that day, I promise.
I also want to thank you. You and your class have shown unprecedented resilience and grace during this generation-defining pandemic.
The COVID-19 virus has turned the world — and your final quarter at Darden — upside down. Overnight, the knowns in our lives — for example, when we can travel where — became unknowns. And things unknown — such as the COVID-19 virus and what a quarantined world is like — became known. Variables shifted. Perhaps Socrates was right when he said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” The pandemic certainly makes me feel that way, and it is humbling.
For years, we have all studied the epic tragedies that history presents. The practice of quarantine reaches all the way back to the 14th century, when ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days — quaranta giorni — before landing. More than 40 days have passed, and we are still wearing masks and social distancing and wondering how long this pandemic will last.
But for all the human suffering and economic damage brought on by the black swan of the novel coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, there can be a silver lining.
Some of life’s great moments and lessons come from serendipity. We are reminded that without health, we have nothing. We find a new appreciation for the things that have been taken away from us, such as the ability to hug friends or family. We don’t always get to choose our context, but we realize that we can choose how to react to the context cards we are dealt. We learn that a difficult context allows development and testing of new skills and solutions. Some rise and become heroes, like some of you working in health care. And as a result of an experiment we could never have conceived, we see possible solutions to vexing problems like climate change.
The crisis provides everyone with the opportunity to look at the world from the inside-out rather than the outside-in: What do you value? What really matters? Sometimes, we must be willing to let go of our preconceived notions of life and adapt to the life that will unfold for us.
You have started. Think of your creativity for a moment. You quickly found ways to be social in a virtual world. You met in Zoom breakout rooms. You got moving. The Darden Cup continued via a fitness app.
You made art. You made playlists and sang karaoke. You showcased the Humans of Darden. You learned how to share your screen.
We humans are all in this together. COVID-19 knows no boundaries or borders. To fix this, business and society have to work together. The world has to work together. Your resilience shows it is possible.
Which brings me to my final point: the power of love and community. Love is stronger than the COVID-19 virus. You, as responsible leaders forged by Darden, will help — are helping — to define and shape this moment. The Darden community is lifelong, and we will always be here for you — and you for each other.
I am so proud of you on this important day of your graduation from Darden, and I look forward to seeing you on the Lawn and on Flagler Court for an in-person celebration, when life’s context allows it. Be safe, and I’ll see you soon.