The Parable of the Sadhu – My Commencement Speech at University of Miami

I was honored to be invited to deliver one of University of Miami’s (UM) Fall 2022 commencement speeches. Many thanks to the amazing UM team for producing a stellar event for the graduates and their families.

Preparing for commencement with UM President Julio Frenk

A special thanks to President Frenk for his leadership and his invitation to be a part of this great event. Congratulations to the class of 2022 and THANK YOU!

I wanted to share my speech here and below:

Adriana Cisneros UM Commencement Speech – Dec. 16, 2022

Thank you so much Jose for your kind introduction – I am humbled to be here with this amazing class of graduates. A special thanks to Dr. Frenk – the reason I’m here with you today – and, more importantly, the person who inspired and encouraged me to join the board of UM, which has enabled me to be part of such a special organization; a place you can all count yourselves fortunate to be a part of.

It has been a little while since I was sitting where you are, attired in a cap and gown, with people telling me that the world is mine to conquer. The fact of the matter is, that while I still clearly remember being in my early 20s, I can assure you I NEVER experienced – as a student – what you have all  experienced during your college years: Covid, lockdowns, omicron, hurricanes (not the sports kind), social unrest, war in Ukraine, immigration  crises, food shortages, or having your final weeks on campus and finals coincide with the  World Cup –  and  the threat of France winning the championship (y el domingo de la mano de Lionel, vamos por la tercera!!).  It is an understatement to say that you have persevered through great uncertainty and come out on the other side full of HOPE.

I’m not sure there is much I can tell you that will make you more prepared to face the world than you already are. So, I think we can wrap this up and get you off to your festivities because my work here is done!

Joking aside, I do have a few words that I hope will help you as you head out on your journey.

I wanted to share with you what I found to be the simplest, yet most interesting case I studied during my Henry Crown Fellowship Program. It’s about The Parable of the Sadhu. I loved this story not only for the thought provoking elements of how different cultures come together but for the simple messages it teaches us about personal choices and the impact those can have on us as individuals and collectively as a group. The Parable of Sadhu is a true story based on Bowen McCoy, a Morgan Stanley employee, who in 1989, was climbing across the mountains of Nepal, headed to a holy village. He was in the middle of the hike when he and three other groups of hikers from New Zealand, Switzerland, and Japan, discovered a Sadhu – one of the holiest persons within Hinduism who has renounced all earthly attachments with the unswerving objective of connecting to the Divine.

The Shadu was wearing only a few pieces of clothing and shivering from the cold.

Some people from the hiking groups gave him warm clothes, food, and drink, but that is where their assistance ended. One person argued they should carry the Sadhu to the nearest village so he could get the help he needed, but no one else offered to help more than they had already. Each of the other people in the trekking groups were from different countries, and each offered a different reason for refusing to stop their hike to help bring the Sadhu to a safer place. In the end, they left the Sadhu lying on a rock in the sun to warm up and continued on their journey. None of the hikers ever learned the fate of the Sadhu; whether he survived or if he made it to safety.

The story describes how each of the group members is focused so heavily on reaching the holy place, that they ignored their ethical responsibilities to a holy man. It highlights the tension that can arise between group and individual goals. Reaching the holy village was the single mission towards which all the hikers were focused.  None of the individual hikers viewed it as their ethical responsibility to take care of the Sadhu. Only one of the team members wanted to stay behind and help the holy man but he didn’t get any support from the other group members, so he continued on his hike. Often, in the business world, time and social pressures influence people to act by instinct and inertia rather than with logic and humanity.

What made this case so memorable for me was the discussion that erupted in the classroom when the Professor suggested we divide into two groups: the ones who would stay behind to bring the Sadhu back to the village and the ones who would continue the journey.

Around 90% of the class said that they would have stayed behind to help the Sadhu even if it meant not reaching the holy village. How do you think this class of 2022 would have responded? What would you have done and why? From what I have heard about this graduating class, I’m betting given all you’ve experienced that closer to 100% of you would have stayed behind. I think the pandemic gave us the gift of making us a bit wiser, more aware, and probably even kinder, more compassionate and empathetic.

This dilemma is similar to what you have experienced these past few years. As President Frenk mentioned during his remarks, you all, individually and collectively, have made personal sacrifices for the good of your classmates and your school. You self-quarantined, which probably felt lonely. You physically distanced to maintain a safe environment that changed much of the camaraderie that develops when you collaborate and confer with each other. Zoom is probably a word you would like to delete from your vocabulary at this point. I would normally advise young scholars to “be brave enough to spend time alone,” but you have done that and come out on the other side of it with so many hopes and dreams intact. The difficulties you’ve faced the past few years have armed you with a special set of skills to go out and conquer your goals.

As you head out into the work place you will be faced with difficult ethical decisions for which there is no definitive “right” answer. So, as you embark on this post-grad journey, take a moment to stop and think before deciding. There is a thin line between right and wrong, which can be difficult to notice when pressed for time or when working with a diverse team of individuals, each with different upbringings and conflicting goals. Make the choice to do something because it engages your heart as well as your mind. Make the choice because it engages all of you. And whether things go right or wrong, accept responsibility for the choices you make.

A key component of wisdom is fearlessness, which is not the absence of fear, but rather not letting your fears get in the way. Do not fear failure, but please – be terrified of regret.

I will close by saying: You are graduating at a pivotal time with a great sense of HOPE and RESILIENCE to propel you.  So…. I ask you, IF you weren’t afraid, what would YOU do?

Thank you for your time today and Congratulations Class of 2022!!!