20th Commencement Address By Dr. John Quelch


I am honored to be with you today as a Harvard professor, as a lifetime friend of Morocco and as Morocco's honorary consul general in New England.  Thank you so much for inviting me back to the tranquility of Ifrane on this beautiful day.


To all our students, please accept my heartfelt congratulations for your graduation today from this internationally esteemed institution, one of the Crown Jewels of Moroccan higher education.


From today, you will carry the Al Akhawayn brand for life on your CV. As alumni, you are part of the Al Akhawayn team. Don't let your team down. Behave according to the values of this fine institution. You will be admired, but you will be watched. Set a good example. Make change happen, but make change happen honestly. Treat citizens and customers with respect. Treat those who work with you, for you, above you, treat them all with respect. Treat your communities with respect. Treat every stranger who crosses your path each day, people you will never see again, with respect. Respect is the foundation of trust and mutual trust is the social glue that enables us to challenge and debate each other with hope, not fear.


I was checking in for a flight and a man ahead of me was arguing loudly with the ticket agent. She was so calm and polite. When it was my turn, I said to her "You impressed me so much, how could you stay so calm with that angry passenger?" She said: “oh, that was easy. He wanted to go to London but his bag is going to Dubai."


I want to share with you six more habits that I've observed in highly effective leaders which, thanks to Al Akhawayn, all of you now have the opportunity to become:


Curiosity....you know, an office desk or a laboratory bench is a very dangerous place from which to view the world. The best leaders set aside at least one day a week to go out in the field, they visit with ordinary people, speak with customers and employees, always asking questions, attentive to the answers, ever looking for opportunities to serve them better. None of us has all the answers, so we need to know how to ask the right questions. Curiosity is the best fuel for creativity. We learn about people's problems and that inspires us as leaders to find solutions.


Authenticity....we all make mistakes. If you make a mistake, admit it openly and promptly. Do not try to cover it up or sweep it under the rug. But don't just apologize, change your behavior. As someone once said, you cannot talk your way out of what you behaved your way into. You can only behave your way out of it.


Judgment...to be a successful leader, you have to consistently show excellent judgment, do the thorough analysis, evaluate the options, don't take short cuts, make the right calls, squeeze where the juice is. You have to show not just professional acumen but also personal judgment, hiring the right people, behaving publicly and privately as a role model for your organization.


Courage...you also have to show courage. If you just go along to get along, you'll never reach the top. You must have the courage to dream, to challenge the status quo, to treat the word "impossible" as your motivation to try harder. Your parents, your teachers and I are counting on you to drive progress, to embrace the inevitability of change and to lead it, not follow it. The leader often finds himself or herself in that lonely place half way across the Grand Canyon between "no longer" on one side and “not yet" on the other. Having the courage to lead change is a challenge. Today, we pass the torch to you.


Resilience.... things will not always go smoothly, sometimes you will be criticized unfairly, sometimes your best efforts will be overlooked. My advice is bring a commitment to excellence to what you do every day, make yourself invaluable and soon you will no longer be invisible. In a hurricane, mighty oak trees fall, tall pine trees snap like matchsticks. But palm trees survive. That's because the palm tree has resilience. It bends but does not break in the face of a storm. When you face the storm, when you feel like giving up, bend, don't break.


Humility......Though each of you has worked hard individually, please look now to your left and look to your right, thank your friends and family members whose support and encouragement have enabled you to arrive here today. Thank your professors and the staff of Al Akhawayn University. As others have helped you, so I now ask you to pledge to use the gift of your Al Akhawayn degree in a lifetime of service to your colleagues, your friends, your families and your communities. Work hard to lift them up, as they have lifted you. Be kind. Be generous.


I want you all to live your dreams but please be careful what you wish for. I want to end with a story. It's for the parents here today, not just for our graduates. There was a married couple; they were going to celebrate their 60th birthdays together over dinner by each making a wish. The wife wished for the opportunity to travel the world. A puff of smoke and an airline ticket appeared in her hand. The husband made a wish for a wife 30 years younger. A puff of smoke and he was still sitting next to his wife but he was now 90 years old.


With that word of caution, I invite you to dream before you think, to dream big dreams that can solve big problems, and to always be fearless and honest in pursuing them. Congratulations to the class of 2017!