Robert H. Smith, ’50
In an emotional ceremony at the Comcast Center, 700 undergraduates, 350 MBA students and 2 doctoral students received their Smith School degrees on May 23, 2008.
Delivering the keynote address was Robert H. Smith ’50, visionary builder and developer in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and the man for whom the Smith School is named. He is former chairman of Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, a division of Vornado Realty Trust, and former chairman of Charles E. Smith Residential, a division of Archstone-Smith. Smith’s family company is best known for developing and building the Crystal City complex in Northern Virginia. [KEYNOTE ADDRESS TRANSCRIPT]
Smith advised the graduates not to fear failure. Fear of failure, he said, was the secret motivator behind many bad decisions.
“I am convinced that when people cheat, it is because they are afraid of falling short. When a student cheats on a test, it is because he is afraid of receiving a poor grade,” said Smith. “When a senior manager covers up corporate misconduct, it isn’t merely greed that motivates him. It is fear of being perceived as unsuccessful. Students who cheat on a test, because they are afraid to fail, grow up to be senior executives, who lie about their corporation’s quarterly earnings, all the while assuring analysts that they are doing just fine.”
Smith urged students to risk failure in order to pursue their dreams. “The amazing side benefit of each setback you encounter, is that it gives you an opportunity to learn, but not in the usual incremental fashion. Failure gives you the opportunity to make a leap of learning. When you have come to a place where you have exhausted every other option, that is when you say “there must be a better way to do this.” And in finding that better way, you will discover great success,” said Smith. He received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Following his address, Smith praised Dean Howard Frank, saying, “From the start Howard Frank impressed me as a man who dreamed big dreams, who understood that it takes big risks to achieve big goals.” It was the last commencement ceremony over which Frank presided as dean of the Smith School.
Rebecca Winner, Office of Marketing Communications