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U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. Gives Graduates Career Advice

Posted May 25, 2008
Tags Commencement
How to evaluate and choose that first job after college with integrity and vision was the focus of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.'s remarks to Hamilton College's class of 2008 at its commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 25. Paulson gave the address at Hamilton's 196th commencement, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House, where 442 students received bachelor's degrees. 

Paulson and his wife Wendy, an environmental educator, received an honorary degree for their volunteer work in conservation. Glass artist Josh Simpson '72 and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch also were awarded honorary degrees. 

Intrigued with the idea of becoming a forest ranger before he went to college, Paulson told graduates that conservation and environmental protection are the cause to which he and his wife are dedicated. He said that his wife "helped me bridge the gap between merely enjoying being in the wilderness to committing our time and money to preserve those places we loved." 

Speaking about careers Paulson advised, "There is no perfect job, but there is a job that is right for you. Be careful not to miss the right job because you're intent on finding the perfect one," he suggested. Paulson urged graduates to "think globally. The world is more connected than ever before," he said, "and what happens abroad affects us, just as what happens in the United States affects others. Even if your job does not require you to think and act globally, use your intellectual curiosity to do so anyway." 

The Treasury Secretary emphasized integrity, work/life balance, on-the-job learning, long-term vision and a positive attitude as keys to professional success. Paulson then segued to the importance of service. 

Paulson said he has been fortunate to have a career in which he "can make a difference on a number of issues which are personally important to me. Experience and knowledge from my chosen career, investment banking, helped me advance a cause I care deeply about, the protection and stewardship of our planet," he said. 

Having spent his career in business and finance, he noted that he has also "found time for the wild, beautiful places that were my first love, and this has grown into a dedication to the cause of conservation and environmental protection." He said he has "found that those who volunteer their time and energy to benefit society greatly enrich their own lives and those of others." 

In discussing the importance of volunteering, Paulson advised the graduates "Do not serve only as an obligation, or simply to 'check the box' as a volunteer. Find an area or issue that you care deeply about – one that involves people who share that interest," he continued. "You will then be rewarded twice – first, in the good you do and second, in personal enrichment and satisfaction." 

In addition to personal involvement in many conservation groups, the Paulsons established the Bobolink Foundation, which Wendy runs, to support conservation and education projects and programs. Henry Paulson served as chairman of the Board of Governors of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) from 2004 until his appointment as Treasury secretary in July 2006. 

Currently Paulson is working with nations around the world and Congress "to create a global clean technology fund that will be the only vehicle in the world focused solely on one of the most serious long-term environmental challenges we face – one which must be met if we are to succeed in the long-term battle against carbon emissions and climate change – helping developing countries adopt the cleanest, most efficient technologies available," he said. "A ton of carbon emitted in Mumbai or Shanghai is every bit as harmful as a ton emitted in New York or Tokyo. Only by building environmentally-sound infrastructure can these developing countries set the stage for a new era of cleaner economic development that is essential to the environmental health of our planet. 

Paulson concluded "I believe that economic and environmental success have to be complementary – they go hand-in-hand because without continued economic and technological progress it will be impossible to achieve our environmental objectives."

Paulson liberally sprinkled his remarks with specific references to Hamilton College. "Service --- making a real difference for a cause that is important to you --- comes in various forms," he said. "Many of you know this already; you have wrought HAVOC on apathy by serving the Utica community, by taking an Alternative Spring Break, or by planting and plowing in your Community Farm Garden."

As Treasury Secretary, Paulson made mention of his predecessor and Hamilton College namesake Alexander Hamilton, calling him "a great American, who as the father of the Treasury Department is one of my heroes."

He noted that there is a prominent Alexander Hamilton statue at Treasury just as the College has one in front of the chapel. "What few people know is that pranksters also take liberties with our statue. Where yours may be painted gold, donned with a straw hat or draped with Mardi Gras beads," he said, "we sometimes find a 1040-E-Z tax form of a GDP growth-rate chart carefully taped to our statue's three –corner hat," Paulson joked.

Paulson praised the value of a liberal arts education as "great preparation for the rest of your life. You have learned to think creatively, to question conventional wisdom and to express yourselves clearly, in writing and orally," he said. "I have a high regard for this college and believe that studying 18th Century literature, Shakespeare, the history of the U.S. Civil War, Chinese linguistics or even the physics of a bed of nails is great preparation for successful careers."

In her remarks, class of 2008 valedictorian Kristin Alongi, a chemistry major from Chittenango, N.Y., said "Each of us has outstanding potential, the potential not only to have a financially and professionally rewarding life, but also the potential to be a great friend, to have an amazing family life, and to just be happy. I think too often these things are lost when we chase a salary or prestigious job. As graduates from one of the top colleges in the nation, sometimes we forget to fight for the things truly make us happy, as we are pushed into 60 hour a week jobs, medical school, or the race to climb the corporate ladder. 

"With this said, however, I'm not expecting you to NOT care about accolades, money, or a high powered job. Believe me, we all will, and as Hamilton College graduates we will have many opportunities for all of the three. Rather, before you leave the hill, I advise each of you to think about what you value, about what truly makes you happy, and then to find and maintain a balance with these aspects of your life and your career," Alongi concluded.

Marco Allodi '08, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, also addressed the audience, urging graduates to "pursue your passions."  Allodi urged that as "plans change, listen to your heart." The Soper Merrill Prize is awarded to the member of the class "who in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the College." The winner is selected by the faculty. 


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