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2013 President's Commencement Colloquy
Patricia Q. Stonesifer
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“President’s Commencement Colloquy”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, May 24, 2013

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Patricia Q. Stonesifer
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“Rensselaer Commencement”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, May 25, 2013
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Patricia Q. Stonesifer
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“Rensselaer Commencement”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, May 25, 2013
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PATRICIA Q. STONESIFER

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters | News Release

A longtime leader in the technology, foundation, and nonprofit arenas, Stonesifer is a graduate of Indiana University. She is president and CEO of Martha’s Table, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., focused on providing food, nutrition, education and other support to help individuals and families break the cycle of poverty. She also advises business, nonprofit, and government leaders on strategies for reducing inequity. In 2012, she completed a three-year term as chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents.

In the 10 years prior, she was the founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She continues to serve on the Smithsonian Board of Regents, as well as on the board of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is involved in several education efforts including America Achieves Advisory Board, Hope Street Group Advisor, Raise DC Executive Team, and Circle of Allies and Champions for the National Council of Youth Leaders. 

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed her as chair of the White House Council on Community Solutions, which was charged with identifying community-level solutions to address the nation’s biggest challenges. Other nonprofit boards on which Stonesifer has served include the Seattle Foundation, the GAVI Fund, One.org, the Seattle YWCA, the Center for Global Development, and the Broad Institute.

 Before joining the Gates Foundation, Stonesifer spent two decades working in technology, culminating as senior vice president at Microsoft. She is on the corporate boards of directors of Amazon.com and Miraval Resorts, and formerly served on the boards of Alaska Airlines, Kinko’s, and Viacom.

Stonesifer served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions on AIDS.

Commencement Remarks by Patricia Q. Stonesifer (as prepared for delivery on May 25, 2013)

Thank you to my friend,  Dr. Jackson, for all you do for RPI and all you do to elevate the importance of great education for all students in this country. I am in awe of my fellow honorees. And glad to be here!  Who would have thought—dropping out of college at age 19, returning years later to complete my degree with a toddler stashed in the university day care—I would stand here today on this beautiful campus—envying the past 4 years you have experienced.

Someone said  “The over prepared mind can be a buffer to Experience”.  You, my young friends, today more than any other day in your life—have over prepared Minds. But you are soon going to dive headfirst into Experience!  So let me share with you the secret to the wonderful path I have been on these past 35 years of my own Experience. 

Just three words—Choose Good Work.

What does it mean to choose good work? Howard Gardner and his colleagues have identified that good work is when the three “e”s align…  Ethical, Excellent and Engaged.

Good work is Ethical—Seek work—seek bosses—seek institutions—seek responsibilities—that are highly aligned with your values. Look past an organization or individual’s branding and prestige and instead explore their history, actions and their commitments going forward. But ethics is not enough…

Good work is “Excellent”—Insist that where you choose to work— can be held up as the very best at what it does or aims to achieve—and ensure you only take jobs—you only spend your precious days—where YOU can do excellent work.

And the final E—good work keeps you “Engaged”—deeply deeply engaged.  You care about your work and you want to learn how you can do it even better. You lose yourself in the work—you lose yourself in the puzzle, the beauty, the purpose…

But I would add that 4th E—EXPERIENCING.

To do truly Good Work—you must keep EXPERIENCING. You must take the time to be really and truly connected— individually—and collectively as a community—to those who your work is meant to support. If you’re building vaccines, if you’re creating solutions to global warming, if you’re leading a foundation—get out of the lab, out of the office, out of the theory—and take the chance to live your work—put yourself in the shoes of the person or community you aim to serve and really attempt to understand what they need, why that is the case, and how you can stand WITH them to create the change you both seek.

In short—Choose Good Work. If you do, it will, indeed, add up to a very Good Life.  

Congratulations!

2013 President’s Commencement Colloquy
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