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Solving the Seemingly Unsolvable

Henry Karongo T'15 was chosen by classmates to deliver this investiture address.

Henry Karongo T'15 was chosen by classmates to deliver this investiture address.

Invited guests, faculty, staff, ladies and gentlemen. And, of course, the Class of 2015.

It’s an incredible honour to address you today. And thank you, John, for that kind introduction!

92 weeks ago, to the day, I stood there. And what I saw coming through that passageway was a shock to the system. The Class of 2015 had turned into a pulsing, technicolour mass of humanity that was now surging into Tuck Circle. Friends, this was the day of the Scavenger Hunt, and my introduction to that time-honoured Tuck tradition: the costume party.

I wasn’t ready for just how many of these dress-up affairs would happen over our two years here. In fact, I’ve been told the Upper Valley’s thrift stores and Amazon.com were very sad to hear that your Tuck careers are ending. But what I hadn’t fully grasped was your commitment to the cause. I mean, look at you now. Somehow, you figured out a way of turning even this day into another costumed caper! Which is to say, don’t you all look magnificent in your new master’s hoods? Congratulations – we made it!

Let us now shine the light of the Tuck School into the world." Henry Karongo T'15

Many societies around the world say that it takes a village to raise a child. It is no different with MBAs. We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the contributions of many valuable players. We shall thank them in turn:

To our parents, families and friends, some of whom are here today, and others who are far away. Without your love and support, we could not be here today. You are also very patient for putting up with relentless social media postings about our never-ending parties and “educational” travels. We are indebted to you forever.

To the faculty. You pumped our brains full of strange facts and made our heads swim. And when we proved that the memory of the average MBA has a half-life of exactly 3 weeks, your fount of knowledge stood ever ready to refill our leaking minds. We are eternally grateful.

To the administration and staff. At the best of times, we were a herd of unruly cats; I can hardly imagine what we were like at our worst. But you ably and cheerfully kept us all in line, so often unseen, behind the scenes. We thank you for your tremendous efforts.

I’d also like to thank Paul Danos, for whom this is his twentieth, and final, Investiture ceremony as Dean of the Tuck School. Dean Danos: look at us and see the fullest realization of your vision for the Tuck School. From increasing the class size, to raising the number of women and international students, to developing innovative curricular programs; you have honed the cutting edge of what a leading global business education should be. The Tuck community will miss you, and we are proud to have shared our two years here with you.

Now, a very important thank you. I’d like to ask all the partners to stand up. Without a doubt, this is your day as much as it is ours. Many of you paused your lives to join us on these rural adventures.

We cannot find words enough to express our appreciation for what you’ve done for us. So we will try these simple ones instead. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

T’15s: I don’t have to persuade you that your legacy here is secure. The admissions office handpicked you to spend two years at Tuck because it was clear that each of you brought something special to the class. Your talents, combined with your commitment to building the community here, yielded remarkable results, be it in case discussions, in career activities, or at the craziest of Cohen parties. And after Tuck, you will distinguish yourselves in your jobs and conduct successful careers.

Then again, I believe that many, if not all of you, were liable to find success, and wild success at that, without ever attending Tuck. So why did we choose to quit enviable jobs, uproot ourselves from cities that we loved, and choose to spend two years of our lives here?

I’ll tell you why I came. I decided to attend Tuck because I felt a restlessness. A restlessness inspired by a crazy idea that somehow, I could make a difference in the lives of Kenyans – indeed people across much of sub-Saharan Africa – by bringing them cheap, reliable and sustainable energy. I was shocked by the fact that annual electricity consumption per person in my country is about a quarter of what your fridge uses in one year. It felt wrong. And business school felt like the right place to try and find some answers.

After two years of dialogue with you, my classmates; faculty; visiting executives, and others, I am even more strongly determined to pursue that dream that started it all. Why is that? It’s because during my Tuck experience, I have become deeply certain of one of my core beliefs. I believe that we, all 276 of us, are uniquely positioned to apply our talents and energies to the world’s most challenging problems. Indeed, it is our moral obligation.

What makes this such an important quest for us? I argue that there are three main reasons. First, for the rest of our careers, the problems that we will have to face as leaders will be global, complex and intimidating. In fact, consider some of the biggest news events that broke during our two years here in Hanover:

To which you may say, “Sure. Those are serious problems. But aren’t they beyond my reach as a freshly minted MBA?”

That leads me to the second reason I think we are well suited to this task. Because of our life experiences so far and our Tuck education, we have the skills required to tackle these problems. We know how to build effective teams. We have learned how to make decisions under uncertainty and to anticipate unintended consequences. And we have an unrivalled level of access, be it through our personal networks we developed before Tuck, through the friendships we have made here, or from the global reach of the institutions we will work within.

I find those two reasons persuasive by themselves. But I think the third and most compelling reason why we should apply ourselves to the most pressing problems of our time is our privileged station in society.

Beyond our innate ability and acquired skills, we cannot ignore the role of luck in our paths to Tuck. Luck takes many forms:

In my case, I benefited from all three, all in Kenya, the country where I have spent most of my years; a country where my having those advantages was the exception and not the rule.

Unfortunately, such fortune smiles on far too few in this world. We count ourselves among that number. And now, we find ourselves here; new members of a small cadre of leaders with the ability to answer the world’s most difficult questions. It is precisely this fact that drives our moral imperative to apply ourselves to this most important of tasks.

I think this is why we came here. And, yes, it is a daunting challenge. Yet, I find inspiration from President John F. Kennedy. On an occasion much like this one 52 years ago at American University in Washington, DC, he spoke about one of humanity’s darkest chapters in history: the threat of nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War. In a time when many believed it impossible for the US and the Soviet Union to find peace, JFK saw otherwise. The phrasing is dated, but the words maintain their power. For he said: 

Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. […] No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.

Men and women of the Class of 2015: I believe that we can do it again, that we can solve the seemingly unsolvable. The stakes are high, and the potential impact incredible: 

My friends, let us take the ideals that drew us here and now shine the light of the Tuck School into the world. With clear minds, open hearts and brave souls, know that we are ready for and equal to the giant tasks before us. Because, together, we have the power to change the world.

Good luck, and Godspeed.