Speech describes how Stanford's mission to change lives flows through its students
MBA student John Russ is one of two students who spoke at the annual Founders’ Celebration, held this year on April 7.
I took a risk coming to Stanford. It seems like an easy enough decision—beautiful sunny days; tall, winding mountains; lush palm trees. This is heaven on earth and who could ask for more? But for me, I just wasn't sold. I like the cold, I love flat land, and I am allergic to most trees. Coming here wasn't always at the top of my list. In fact, my other top choice—Harvard Business School—was closer to my family, and I had many alumni at my former company who told me that HBS was right for me. In fact, I was all set to go when I received a phone call from a GSB alum named Bob Lumpkins.
Mr. Lumpkins was the vice chair of Cargill, a Minnesota company located not too far from where I grew up. He and I had a nice enough conversation and I remember thinking that he was a good man and a good ambassador of the school. Near the end of our call, Mr. Lumpkins decided that he had one last question for me: Did I happen to know Rayfield Russ? Well, to his surprise, Rayfield Russ was my father. I say "was" because he passed away in 1988 and had been gone for almost 19 years by the time Bob and I were speaking. When I told Bob about this he immediately chimed in and said, "I am so sorry to hear about your father's passing. I knew him well. I was your father's first boss and I recruited him to come to Cargill. How is your mom, Flossie?"
I literally had to sit down. All these years, I had wondered what my father was like as an adult—the one relationship that we never got to share, and here was a man who had some of that information! Bob began to tell me the story of how he had encouraged Cargill, at a time when minorities were not as welcome in the corporate mainstream, to go recruit at schools that participated in the Consortium for Graduate Student Management (an organization that funds fellowships for high-achieving minorities to receive MBAs at member schools). He had done this because he thought that getting the best talent, regardless of race, was the right thing to do. If it wasn't for his action, my life and the opportunities my family has benefited from would have been totally different.
This struck me in a powerful way, but Bob said that he was just doing what he believed in, simply living out a sense of purpose through business that he had learned at Stanford. What he had walked away from Stanford with was a sense that business is not just about business. It is about impact and people and the strength of organizations to affect change. I realized then, as I do even more clearly now, that what makes Stanford special is that my classmates believe in a sense of purpose. Anyone can have a name, and anyone can have a message, but not everyone can provide a place where people can believe in principles and still learn in ways that allow them to grow and change as a person. Where people can explore what it really means to be a leader.
Because of this place, I will graduate with a changed mind, a changed perspective and a changed heart. I will take that into my workplace, into my relationships and into my community. Because of my fellow classmates and those who came to Stanford before us, I can change the world around me. I used to think the GSB motto, "Change Lives, Change Organizations, Change the World," was lofty at best and unattainable at worst. I was wrong. Bob changed my world before I was born, and I am forever grateful that he came at the right time to change it again. It was Stanford that changed his world and I am now part of a proud legacy that will truly continue to change the world in ways that will help countless others—even for those who may not ever know we've done so. This is what it means to attend Stanford and this is why Stanford means so much to me.
John Russ is an MBA candidate at the Graduate School of Business.