Ari Winkleman Speech - Commencement 2012
Address to the LeBow College of Business Class of 2012
Five years ago, when I showed up at Drexel as a starry-eyed, and very short, freshman, struggling to carry all my stuff into Myers Hall, you may remember that there was just barely an iPhone – and it only had 15 apps: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Phone, of course, and a few others. Today, there are over 500,000 apps in the App Store, and they solve problems we didn’t even know we had. You can stick your phone under your pillow and have the Sleep Cycle app wake you up at the optimal point during your REM cycle – or, more critically, you can use Words With Friends to expand your vocabulary while staying up until 2 a.m. playing Scrabble with someone you know across campus or across the world – which incidentally then presents the optimal use case for the Sleep Cycle app. Mobile technology, especially as it becomes more socially integrated, now feels like an extension of our central nervous system, and thereby unlocks tremendous possibility for the very value creation that we discuss in every single LeBow class.
Five years ago, the mass merchandising empire we call Justin Bieber wasn’t even a twinkle in his mentor Usher’s eye. Bieber’s rapid rise to fame, selling 15 million albums plus countless purple hoodies and high-tops, in conjunction with his team’s mastery of digital communication, garnering a record 744 million YouTube views of “Baby” alone and 23 million followers on Twitter (where racks of servers are devoted just to him), has forever impacted our concept of consumer engagement – and our ability to do just that.
Over the last five years, we’ve also experienced the beginning and end of a global recession – during which our professors challenged us to think critically, strategically, realistically and deeply about the business opportunities presented by such a series of events.
The world around us has changed, a lot, and so have we.
Earlier this year, Justin Bieber signed his first artist, 26-year-old, Carly Rae Jepsen, whose single, “Call Me Maybe,” has taken our country, and many others, by storm. Jepsen’s stylists’ wardrobe decisions have recently been called, “too young,” or, too “youthful,” criticized as deliberately positioning Jepsen to appeal to a pre-teen audience. Having concentrated my studies in marketing and entrepreneurship, my calculated response to this is: yeah – exactly!
Our generation has a lot of names – we’re called, “Millennials,” “Gen Y,” “‘Call Me Maybe’ Lovers” – but I think the most interesting thing we’re called is, “The Peter Pan Generation.” This classification is meant to be a bit hostile and asserts that we seek to delay our passage into adulthood. Does this theory really hold when its subject is us, Drexel students – I’m not so sure. We came to Drexel, and LeBow, eager to get our feet wet – we wanted to become productive members of our rapidly changing society. We wanted to work – hard. But, we also wanted to do everything else you’re supposed to do when you’re in college.
Peter Pan, first introduced by Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie in 1902, and later commercialized by Walt Disney with the highest grossing film of 1953 (making Peter Pan the Justin Bieber of his time), is a “mischievous boy” characterized by his “unending youth.” Peter lives on the island of Neverland where he becomes the leader of the Lost Boys. He has a unique ability to “imagine things into existence,” which is undoubtedly enabled by his youthfulness.
Imagining things into existence is precisely what we’ve been trained to do here – bringing our ideas to reality, but feasibly, and through careful analysis, ultimately executing and getting things done in true Drexel fashion. The cornerstone of our LeBow education has been leadership – so like Peter on the island of Neverland, we’ve learned here, to lead anywhere.
It’s our responsibility to leverage the skills and experiences we’ve gained here at Drexel to imagine the solutions for the problems of the future into existence. In order to act on this responsibility, and to take advantage of the infinite number of opportunities presented by advances in technology and changes in our economy, we need to, as Steve Jobs so famously explained, “stay hungry,” and “stay foolish.” But, in order to do that, we need to, as only Drexel students can, maintain a sense of eternal optimism by making sure that some part of us retains an element of “unending youth,” while also embracing the professional spark that brought us all here together in the first place.
So congratulations to the class of 2012, may we enjoy being active members of the Peter Pan Generation.