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A letter to Kellogg’s graduating class of 2014 from Dean Ziegler

Good morning, graduates!

Today is a big day. My Kellogg journey has been shared with many of you, so I am sure you know this day is particularly meaningful to me as well. Your graduation, the convocation events this week, and the exit conversations I’ve had with many of you have inspired personal reflection.

Over the last 15-plus years, I’ve developed five “life mottos” that I wanted to pass along to you to consider as you take the next step in your life journey.

1. Aspire to achieve no unmanaged outcomes.
For any personal or professional situation, envision the outcome you desire, think through potential challenges, get out ahead of the situation and pre-solve for any issues. This requires moments of deep thinking, great organization and the courage to articulate what is important to you – despite potential resistance. Try it. I promise that once you start thinking this way, you will feel much more in control of your career and life.

2. Cultivate mentor relationships.
Mentors matter– we all need support. Finding a mentor should be at the very top of your to-do list. My personal mentors have changed every five years or so. I’ve needed different guidance over time and different mentors to meet those needs. Understand how you too can begin to mentor others. My mentor-mentee relationships continue to be some of the most rewarding of my life.

3. Focus on your response to the “bounce” vs. the “bounce” itself.
You will make mistakes. Some will be big, and some will be small. I’ve made dozens over my career. Your mentors and those more senior than you have also made them, even though they may not talk about them. In my experience, people don’t remember the mistakes themselves (or the negative bounce), but they remember how you respond to those situations.  Attitude supersedes all else.

4. Resist the urge to go underground.
You will have moments of sheer panic – that you were a hiring mistake, that you made a mistake on an analysis, that you are overwhelmed by the workload/responsibility. This is normal and happens to everyone, even if they don’t want to admit it. Resist the urge to go underground and hide. Instead, ask for help, say you don’t know if you don’t know or call your friends for support. Organizations that hire Kellogg graduates do not make hiring mistakes. Remember, you belong, you have earned a seat at the table. You will be great, but you won’t be great totally on your own…something you’ve undoubtedly learned at Kellogg.

5. Plan to live a full and happy life.
Every 6 months that I was at McKinsey, I asked myself – Am I still learning? Am I still making an impact? Am I still having fun? For 11 years, the answers to these questions were yes. At year 11, I started to feel differently, so wrote out a 40×40 list (things I wanted to do by the time I was 40) and started executing. My world totally opened up. I was a seat filler at the Primetime Emmys, travelled around the globe, attended the Aspen Ideas Festival…and I made choices that got me to Kellogg. I firmly believe that you have to plan to live a full and happy life. It is so easy to get caught up in the routine, put your head down and work, and define yourself by your professional accomplishments. Figure out what is important to you over time (not necessarily what others think is important), and make intentional choices that bring you the greatest personal happiness. You may want to walk down a path that everyone around you thinks is crazy or risky. If you have conviction that this path will make you happy, make the brave choice and take it.

You are Kellogg leaders, an achievement few people can claim. Many doors and opportunities will be open to you. Have confidence, be able to articulate what is most important to you and use that as your guidepost for navigating life’s big decisions.

While your days as a student have come to an end, your connection to Kellogg lasts for a lifetime. Take advantage of the opportunities provided by our global alumni network – leverage it and contribute to it.

I look forward to seeing each of you on the graduation stage later today and hearing about all of your personal and professional success going forward.


Elizabeth Ziegler
Associate Dean of MBA Programs and Dean of Students