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Commencement

Live Life to Its Fullest, HBS Class Day Speakers Urge

5.25.16

Marcelle de Souza Goncalves Meira
Photograph by Susan Young/courtesy of the Harvard Business School


Marcelle de Souza Goncalves Meira
Photograph by Susan Young/courtesy of the Harvard Business School

Tom Tierney
Photograph by Susan Young/courtesy of the Harvard Business School


Tom Tierney
Photograph by Susan Young/courtesy of the Harvard Business School

“I am here today to thank you—for saving my life,” said Marcelle de Souza Gonçalves Meira, M.B.A ’16, as she began her address to her fellow Harvard Business School (HBS) graduates. Meira, whose husband, Pedro Meira, was also a member of the HBS class of 2016 and passed away last September from stomach cancer, was selected by her peers to be the student speaker at Wednesday’s Class Day ceremony. Her speech was followed by remarks from Tom Tierney, M.B.A. ’80, the co-founder and chairman of the nonprofit organization The Bridgespan Group.

Meira provided an emotional description of the day she learned of her late husband’s illness: “On that day, my world, as I knew it, just melted below my feet,” she said. “We were far away from home, we were far away from our families in Brazil, and all we had here was HBS.” She thanked her classmates for visiting Pedro at the hospital during his illness. And after his death, she said, it was her peers at HBS that “kept me from drowning.” Pedro Meira received his diploma from HBS just days before passing away. 

Meira said she imagined her husband would be proud of her for facing her “fear of public speaking outside the comfort zone of my native language,” Portuguese. She added that she believes overcoming her “personal battles” has made her stronger and more appreciative of life; ironically, she reported, she had included the Brazilian proverb, “O que não mata, engorda,” which translates roughly to “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” in one of her HBS application essays. “I invite all of you,” she said, “to cherish each and every single day as a big bonus you have just been awarded.”

In his remarks, Tierney also highlighted the theme of living life to its fullest, telling the class, “It is far more important to build a life than a résumé.” He said he is now glad that he made a number of “dumb decisions” earlier in his career, including taking the reins of the consulting firm Bain & Company from Mitt Romney in 1992, when the company was deep in financial trouble. “The biggest events of life are often unpredictable and uncontrollable,” Tierney said. “The best you can do is try to keep a clear mind and a steady hand.”

“By far the most essential and fulfilling dimensions of our lives do not come with a paycheck,” Tierney continued, explaining that, to him, “at the end of one’s days, nothing matters more than family, friends, and whatever little bit you’ve been able to do to make the world a better place.” To that end, Tierney said, he left his well-paid position at Bain in 2000 to work full-time at Bridgespan, which he called “a ‘make a difference’ company” that provides consulting services to nonprofits and philanthropists. 

Meira had also warned her audience not to allow the pressures of the business world to distract them from pursuing their own personal fulfillment. “As overachievers, we have had a tendency to over-plan towards huge end goals, and to allow all our happiness to be [nothing] but a function of their conquest,” she said. “But in the end, what will have made this entire experience is not the framed piece of paper we will hang in our future offices.”

Meira, who studied aeronautical and mechanical engineering as an undergraduate in Brazil and worked at the Boston Consulting Group, to which she will return after leaving HBS, shared several fond memories of her two years on campus. She recalled moments of light-heartedness that shaped her experience there, like seeing “future Fortune 500 CEOs dressed in neon spandex” at an ’80s-themed party. She urged her classmates to appreciate those moments and not to waste their time “paralyzed by the fear that we won’t achieve our next target, or that we won’t have that perfect happy ending we so desperately hoped for. Life is not about its endings.”

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