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Joe Preston delivers the commencement keynote address
Photo by Jamison Wexler

Good morning, everyone. President Chrite, faculty, trustees and graduates and all of your family and friends.  

I must tell you, it is a pleasure, an honor and a privilege to be part of this celebration — to close a chapter and to begin a new chapter in each of your lives.

If I came here today from our headquarters it would have been a very quick ride because Bentley and New Balance have shared community for quite some time. New Balance was founded in 1906 just around the corner in Watertown. And our global headquarters today is still in Brighton, while we also have 10,000 associates around the globe in corporate, retail, manufacturing and distribution roles.

We have dozens of your fellow alumni currently working at New Balance and are major contributors to our ongoing success. We also have a number of associates whose children, nieces and nephews are part of the Bentley alumni as well as students here. So today on this momentous occasion, I do want to congratulate all of you and I do want you to know that the Bentley diploma means something. You're coming from a fine institution. Congratulations.  

Bentley is known for a lot of things, obviously business, so I'm going to assume you can follow a little bit of napkin math with me here ...  if you live to be a 100 — or let’s say, 75 — four years is not a long time. It’s about 5% of your life.  

And while time is measured in seconds, hours, days, we all know that each period of time is not created equal. And the past four years have been unlike any other four-year period.  

Certainly, for me — and I’m sure for many of you.

You are the Class of 2024, no ordinary class. The past four years have been no ordinary times. Your path here today is unlike any other. You have had to navigate change and forge paths never imagined by your parents. For most of you, the disruption started in high school: disrupted sports, proms, graduations. And your entry into college was disrupted for a prolonged period.

For many of you, I am sure it was not easy to get here. You each have examples of personal challenges — the personal journey that you have been on.  

And yet, here you are. Today, receiving your degrees. It says a lot about you, individually, it says a lot about your support system — the Bentley community — and it says a lot about your potential. Years from now, society is going to be most curious about the Class of 2024: how you handled the adversity, how you've grown and how your contributions are impacting the world.

What you have endured and accomplished says a lot about your potential, certainly as a business leader and, most importantly, as a person.  

Headshot of Joe Preston, president and CEO of New Balance
Years from now, society is going to be most curious about the Class of 2024: how you handled the adversity, how you've grown and how your contributions are impacting the world.
Joe Preston
President and CEO, New Balance

Today is primarily a day about looking ahead — thinking of your future and dreaming about what is possible. And, how your experiences the past four years can inform your future course.  

With that in mind and in honor of this Class of 2024, I've come up with five observations and experiences that have shaped your last four years and how they have equipped you for the future — almost like your sports center countdown.  

NUMBER 5: You have seen how interconnected the world is. Technology and travel have brought the world closer. We have also seen over the last four years the effects of isolation on mental health worldwide.

It’s good for everyone to have some alone time — to decompress and reflect — but humans were made to be with each other. From the earliest days humans sought and built communities.  

We know progress — and fun — comes in numbers. And isolation has a lasting and dark impact. Today, I encourage you to think about how you can influence the future with what you've learned, what you have experienced, and how you can promote connection and community, on small and large scales. Use those experiences to remind yourself to stay connected. Be the one — be the leader in your group, in your community that keeps people connected.  And, when you don’t hear from someone in a while, reach out: Sometimes sounds of silence can be a cry for help.  

Nothing in the human experience is more important than relationships. And nothing in a relationship is more powerful than being with each other.    

NUMBER 4: While taking numerous classes from Accounting, HR, Marketing that are all foundational, you may not have realized that you have also spent the last four years honing your leadership competencies.  

Leadership is very much about self-development: a commitment to learning, exploring and discovering. It can grow from experiences — and just as quickly, successful leadership can retreat when you stop being curious or adaptable.  

Over the last four years you have been strengthening your leadership competencies. You've demonstrated resilience, you've operated surrounded by ambiguity, you were adaptive when necessary and you were results-oriented. And results do matter. There was a goal. You achieved it. You are here today. Pretty good work!

In order to become and stay an effective leader, it is a continuous cycle of listening and learning, while grounded in a core set of values.

I have been fortunate. I have had the opportunity to be around a few great leaders. They all have commonalities. They are authentic. They have strong values and character. They operate with humility. They demonstrate strength through resilience, and they also demonstrate strength through acts of kindness.

NUMBER 3: You are the generation that has grown up with technology. It has changed the way you learn, the way you communicate, the way we all live. Much of it is positive. The advancements in the power and speed of all things digital continues to bring opportunity to help society with advances against diseases, among other things.  

For each of you as you go forward: Leverage technology as a tool but never stop learning, thinking and staying curious. The truly successful tech advancements will still require people and connection — people who are present in the moment and can assess the implications and the possibilities in front of them. Technology advancements will continue to accelerate. The pace of change will be brisk and you will need to be ready to continue to learn. The past four years have prepared you — you know how to learn. You know it takes commitment. It takes rigor. And it requires you to be in the moment. An ability to do all of this is what separates good from great. Never stop learning and be present.  

NUMBER 2: The last four years have illuminated the need for empathy and compassion and your generation deserves a shout out on how you demonstrate it.

I have had the opportunity to travel the world during my time with New Balance. What I have experienced is that we all have more in common than differences. The cultures, the language, the religions, they may be different, but at the core most people just want to do what is right and what is best for their families.        

As you embark into the business world, I implore you to remember that yes, it’s business, results matter, but we are all people. And your career experiences will be richer, and your perspectives will broaden, if you are open to learning about other cultures and you demonstrate empathy.

NUMBER 1: You should know this more than anyone: Take nothing for granted.  

Five years ago, if anyone would have told you that you wouldn’t go to a prom, a high school sports banquet, or that your first proper graduation would be today, you never would have believed it. So let this be an invitation to celebrate. Let this be a reminder to find joy in the moments you have, both big and small.  

You now know more than anyone that celebrating milestones — especially with people we love — is how joy is expressed, how energy is refueled and how life becomes truly fulfilled.  

As you move ahead and form your own business, or join a nonprofit, or join the public or private sector, let your experiences inform you — but never let one thing define you. Be proud of your past, and always be ready for change that accompanies any growth.

Bentley Class of 2024, I wish you well. I will be following your journey. Congratulations!

Bentley 2024 Commencement Recap

‘Live a Life of Purpose’

‘Be the Best Possible Version of Yourself’