Javier Palomarez was only 3 years old when his mother moved him and his nine siblings from Texas to northwest Indiana, just south of the University of Notre Dame. They were migrant workers picking crops by hand and living in a one-room shack with no running water.
On May 17, nearly 50 years later, Palomarez returned to the region as the commencement speaker for the Mendoza College of Business Graduate Ceremony. VIDEO
“I have to tell you just how surreal it is on a personal level for me to be standing before you here today,” he told the 427 business master’s candidates in the Joyce Center’s Purcell Pavilion. “How could I have ever dreamed, growing up as I did, a former high school dropout learning English as a second language … that I would find myself addressing one of the world's premier institutions of higher learning?”
But Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) and former marketing executive for Sprint Inc. and Allstate Insurance Corporation among others, called his humble beginnings a blessing: “I learned the dignity of a hard day's work, the importance up constantly setting and achieving goals, the inherent value of serving others and the need to honor my responsibilities.”
His life’s blessings inspired him to help others, especially through the USHCC, which represents 3.2 million Hispanic-owned firms, $468 billion in economic contribution to the U.S. economy and more than 219 American corporations. “We never forget that we are first and foremost American businesses, and every tax bill that we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture and every single service we provide goes to benefit the greatest economy in the world.”
Additionally, the USHCC partners with Mendoza’s Nonprofit Executive Programs to provide executive education to leaders of Hispanic chambers of commerce across the country.
Palomarez called on the graduates to “defy expectations and prove to the world that today's Millennials are our greatest hope and tomorrow’s greatest generation.” He outlined three life lessons to help them fulfill their promise.
The first was to remember the basics. “In today's big business lexicon everyone invites you to revolutionize, to reinvent, to innovate, to think outside the box, to basically to set the world on fire,” he said. But he warned against seeking immediate gratification and overnight acclaim. “Learn your business first; be patient in the development of your life and your career,” he said. “We need to spend time developing our skills. Unlike exams … we can't cram our way to lifelong and sustainable success.”
The second lesson was to make a difference. “I'm talking about truly dedicating part of your professional life to contributing meaningfully,” he said. “Always remember that anywhere you are, you have the power to influence those around you, to inspire others.”
Finally, he told the business students to never measure wealth in dollars. “An individual’s wealth should be measured by the lives that she touches, the impacts of her contributions and the legacy that she creates,” he said. “Never forget that the weight of your name is heavier than all of the gold that you can amass.”
In closing, he told the graduates that “in true Notre Dame spirit, remember to fight for your dreams, seize the future and commit your lives to something truly exceptional and bigger than yourself.”
In the undergraduate business commencement ceremony on May 18 in the Joyce Center’s North Dome, Roger D. Huang, the Martin J. Gillen Dean for the Mendoza College, gave a parallel message to 643 students. Huang encouraged the graduates to embrace the mission of service of the College and University and to become servant leaders.
“Servant leaders first and foremost recognize that whatever resources are given into their hands—the lives of their employees, whatever wealth or assets the company has acquired, the customers and shareholders—are not theirs to possess,” he said. “They are to be stewards, mere stewards, dedicated to a philosophy that says, ‘I am responsible for the lives of those around me. I am responsible for their welfare and that of my customers and stakeholders. I am responsible to the world.’”
Huang pointed out biblical roots of servant leadership in the book of Matthew when Jesus explains that the true purpose of his earthly incarnation was to serve, not to be served. He then spoke about Pope Francis’s recent attention to the topic. “Many news outlets ran headlines about the pope excoriating capitalism,” Huang said. “But take a closer and deeper look, and you find he is urging people away from business as consumerism, to transformational vision of business as a force for good. He states, ‘Business is, in fact, a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.’”
Finally, Huang spoke of Mendoza’s founding dean, the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, and how he built the College upon the notions of servant leadership, especially through his often quoted passage, “The primary function of commerce is service to mankind.”
In closing, Huang urged the departing graduates to keep the lessons of servant leadership in mind and heart, no matter their path. “Servant leadership does not require a big executive title. It doesn’t require that you command billion dollar budgets,” he said. “It only requires an attitude that says, ‘I accept the responsibility to serve.’”