Yong Zhang's Commencement Speech
Yong Zhang's Commencement Speech
May 24, 2008
Graduates, parents, families, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends, it's a great honor for me to speak with you on this important day. Graduates, what you are receiving today are not just advanced degrees. You are receiving passports to your future success and a rich, full life.
Sixteen years ago, I came to this country with only 400 dollars in my pocket and a limited ability to speak English. I spent my first seven nights in New York City, sleeping in a subway station with homeless people. As you can imagine, when I arrived in Massachusetts, I was so ready to start my graduate program. Of course, those nights in New York City were very formative to my educational career in that I learned to drink excessive amounts of beer in a humbling housing situation.
Back then, I knew my UMass education was going to be the key to my success. My first day in school was rough. It took me almost 3 hours to find Professor Hsu's office in the physics department. My second day was not any easier. By the time I found my classroom, the class was half over. You will be glad to know that I have improved over time. I did not get lost on my way to today's commencement. In addition to teaching me how to find my way from point A to point B, UMass Dartmouth taught me how to find the right path to succeed in the business world in this country.
I don't hesitate to admit that, without my experience of earning two master's degrees from this school, I would not be chief operating officer of Salary.com, a company I joined at startup, and helped build into a NASDAQ listed public company. UMass Dartmouth was a truly inspiring and wonderful community, which prepared me for today's challenges, and continues to impact my life in many positive ways.
In the past decade, I have witnessed the university's ever-lasting, impressive growth and evolution -- with a focus on being more innovative, more accessible, more collaborative and having a larger global impact. In my opinion, UMass Dartmouth is one of the best universities in New England. It was a great school a decade ago when I graduated, and now it's even better. Your educational experience at UMass Dartmouth makes you a person who can make a difference in this world.
I joined my current company Salary.com in 2000. As most of you probably remember, the US stock market crashed in 2000 due to the dot-com bubble burst. Back then, most people asked me: "Why would you want to join a dot-com after the bubble has burst? It sounds risky to me!" My answer was "Salary.com is not just a regular dot-com. It innovates the way to manage talent and compensation. The software makes a big difference in people's lives by helping them negotiate fair pay, and make the right career choices" The only person I was truly able to convince, and needed to convince was my wife, who also received two Master's degrees from this school. Here I want to say thank-you to my wife for the full support she gave me all these years. I want again to say thank-you to UMass Dartmouth for giving my wife the exactly same degrees, so she and I can always share the same vision and never have to argue with each other. Joining an under-funded dot-com in 2000 is a big risk, given that most of dot-com's were going under. Today, when we look back, we are glad that we took risks for innovation.
Soon, you will pursue your own post graduate dreams by beginning to build a successful career or create a new business. There are often many paths to achieve these new milestones. Some of these pathways may be brand-new due to technological advancements or social development, but these ventures often sound risky and uncomfortable. I encourage you to take risks and follow your heart. When you are the first, there are no books you can read, no conferences you can attend, or no one to guide you through the process. That said, you will be surprised how quickly success can come, and how satisfying your journey can be.
I am often asked "What are the most important criteria when evaluating an opportunity?" Is it making a lot of money? I tell people "No". In the short term, money may sound important when you have to pay back your educational loans. However, "Money" should not be the most important criteria. An opportunity is worth pursuing if it provides you with a chance to partner with ethical people to solve a problem or fill a void. That's what can improve society.
In today's global economy, the most valuable opportunities are those that impact the entire world. If you focus your efforts on "People" not "Money", that's what sustains your business. That's the greatest reward in the end -- both socially and financially.
Today is the final step in your graduate school career at UMass Dartmouth. Please know that it is more than just a degree you are receiving. You are receiving direction to lead you on the path to become a global leader. You are also taking responsibility for creating value for yourself, your family, your community, your country and the world. You are being granted freedom to make choices based on your heart and your ability to innovate for the good of society. You are free to "think outside of the box" and to choose a road less traveled, even if that road leads through a New York City subway station. All you need is the encouragement, conviction and mental toughness to make a difference in this world. Today's ceremony may be a celebration for one chapter in your life, but it is also the commencement of new chapters. You are well prepared to love, to compete, to innovate, and to lead.
Graduates: go forth and live a good life!
Author: "Yong Zhang '93"
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