Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship in a free market society yesterday during her address to the Class of 2015 at the McDonough School of Business’ commencement ceremony yesterday evening.

After a short period of thunderstorms, the MSB’s ceremony was relocated from Healy Lawn to the McDonough Gymnasium.

Teaching professor of finance Lynn Doran introduced Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. Doran highlighted Chao’s career in both the private and public sectors, specifically noting her status as the first Asian-Pacific American to have been appointed to a deputy cabinet position as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Doran then presented Chao to University President John J. DeGioia for the reception of an honorary degree, of which Chao has received 34.

Chao began her remarks noting her husband, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and his attendance during the evening ceremony.

“His sole role today is that of the adoring spouse,” Chao said.

Chao stressed the role of American entrepreneurial culture in shaping business in her talk. Throughout the speech, she referred to the free market as the driver of positive social and economic change.

“[A] key advantage we enjoy as a country is a culture that encourages critical thinking, creativity and risk taking,” Chao said. “But to so many other people around the world, the American genius for taking abstract ideas and concepts and turning them into creative products or services is nothing short of miraculous.”

Having worked in the private sector for many years, including at Bank of America and Citicorp, Chao defended its role in the economy and in providing social benefits.

“Many believe that helping others is the sole purview of the nonprofit sector, but in reality, it is the ultimate goal of private, for-profit sector: creating jobs, opportunities and improving standards of livings for people and their families,” Chao said. “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.”

Chao related the experience of the free market system to her young life as an immigrant from Taiwan. She and her family moved to the United States when she was eight years old.

“We survived and thrived with the help of newly found friends and neighbors, through hard work, and the opportunity that America offers to realize your dreams,” Chao said.

She ended her address further stressing the necessity for entrepreneurship and urged the graduating class to elicit positive change.

“The journey you begin today will have its ups and down, 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,” Chao said.

David Thomas, dean of the McDonough School of Business, then announced that 73 students—with a GPA of at least 3.5—would be graduating cum laude, 48 students—with a GPA of at least 3.7—would be graduating magna cum laude, and 12 students—with a GPA of at least 3.9—would be graduating summa cum laude.

“Very impressive. Almost 40 years ago, I graduated ‘thank the laudé,’” Thomas said.

Senior associate dean and director of the undergraduate program Norean Sharpe then named the class of 2015, starting with its valedictorian Evan Feirstein (MSB ’15) and salutatorian Diego Bacci (MSB ’15).

Thomas added concluding remarks, speaking to the Jesuit values of Georgetown and their effect on the business curriculum.

“At the McDonough School of Business, we tried to translate those values into our mission to develop principled leaders… who are rigorously educated and understand the perspectives that a business education can give you, the idea that market solutions to problems is likely to be the most sustainable solution to many of the major challenges that face our world today,” Thomas said.

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