Secretary Elaine Chao


Remarks Prepared for Delivery by the Honorable Elaine L. Chao 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor McDonough School of Business 2015 Undergraduate Commencement Georgetown University Saturday, May 16, 2015

Thank you, President DeGoia, Dean Thomas, graduating seniors, faculty, administrators and members of the clergy, parents, family members and friends —I am delighted to be with you today.  And, I’m so glad that my husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is able to join me as well.  He’s in the role of the adoring spouse today. 

First, congratulations to graduating seniors.  I know you’ve been waiting all day to receive your diplomas and celebrate with your family and friends.  So let me not delay you too much on your special day. 

In your time at Georgetown, you’ve completed a rigorous curriculum to prepare yourselves to be entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators. You will be the future drivers of wealth creation and increased standards of living for our fellow countrymen and women and increasingly people around the world.

Georgetown is a great university, known for its commitment to building principled leaders.  Having a set of core values that stresses accountability, transparency and ethical behavior is one of the most important assets you will ever acquire.  It is the key to building trust, which is the foundation of leadership and entrepreneurial success.

As someone who has traveled throughout the world, I can tell you that the flexibility, transparency and accountability of America’s free enterprise system is the envy of the world.  That’s why so many international students flock to American business schools, such as Georgetown, to learn about these principles firsthand.

Another key advantage we enjoy as a country is a culture that encourages critical thinking, creativity and risk taking.  As Americans who live in this culture every day, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate just how unique and special these qualities are.  But to so many others around the world, the American genius for taking abstract ideas and concepts and turning them into creative products and services is nothing short of miraculous.  Perhaps that’s why so many countries have sent educators to America to learn how to teach their students creativity.  As with everything close to home, sometimes we need reminders from overseas to help us appreciate just how unique and special America is.

In his fascinating book, “They Made America,” Harold Evans provides many examples of how this unique environment has empowered entrepreneurs and innovators.  He celebrates not only the great innovators of the past.  He highlights the pioneers of the present who are revolutionizing commerce and communications from the dorm rooms, garages and start-ups of places like Silicon Valley. 

Peter Drucker coined the term “emerging entrepreneurial society” to describe the economy that innovators are making possible. Thanks to the information technology revolution, business structures are becoming less hierarchical, more networked.  Mass customization is overtaking mass production as a key competitive advantage.  Faster computing has made possible scientific and medical advances that were previously unimaginable. And innovation is no longer the purview of a few.  It originates every day in the imaginations of millions of people.  Information technology is democratizing our world. 

Information technology is often decried as the great disruptor.  But it also is the great facilitator. It has freed many workers from the old 9 to 5 regimen, creating flexible work arrangements aided by technology that seems to change at the speed of light. It has produced companies like Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Instagram, and eBay.  They not only create jobs directly, but empower others.  eBay, for example, employs approximately 15,000 people.  But one estimate has placed the number of people who earn all or part of their livelihood on eBay at 1.3 million. 

As future business leaders, you will be practitioners in the free enterprise system, which is the underpinning of our country’s economy and prosperity. Unfortunately, because of the lapses of some, popular culture today tends to disparage the free enterprise system and its leaders.  But without the entrepreneurs, innovators and risk takers who propel our economy forward, millions of people would be condemned to poverty or a lower standard of living.  The combined wealth of millions of enterprises that lifted hundreds of millions of people to a higher standard of living, all over the world, would not have been created. 

Many believe that helping others is the sole purview of the non-profit sector.  But in reality, it is the ultimate goal of the private, for-profit sector—creating jobs, opportunities and improved standards of living for people and their families.  As future leaders in the free enterprise system, you will have a responsibility to defend and champion this sector by becoming a leader of integrity and principle worthy of the public trust who empowers others to transform their lives for the better. 

America is a unique place that has given so many people the opportunity to improve their lives.  This has a special resonance for me, because I came to America as an immigrant from Asia when I was 8 years old. 

My parents left everything familiar behind to give their children the opportunities that America offers.  Our initial years in this country were very difficult.  We didn’t speak the language, didn’t understand the culture and traditions of this country.  We had neither family nor friends here. Yet we survived and thrived through the help of newly found friends and neighbors, hard work, and the opportunity America offers to realize your dreams.

The journey you begin today will have its ups and downs, its twists and turns.  But if you cultivate a generous and grateful heart, and keep your eye on the true goal of entrepreneurship—which is creating value for others—you will never lose your way.  Good luck!