Ryan Finvarb's 2018 Commencement Valedictorian Address

“Whatever you do, do NOT apply to Wharton. You’ll never get in.” Words uttered by none other than Penn Alumni, current Penn students, past Wharton applicants, my grandparents, and even my own college counselor – don’t worry Sardina, I knew it wasn’t personal! Quite unbelievably now, these are the exact words that I wrote to begin my college admissions essay for Wharton. I had committed college suicide, and the only consolation I had was that I could change my other applications. When I reflect back on the decision to begin my application to Wharton this way I imagine an analogous approach to other things in life like a first date or job interview and I cringe a lot on the inside. “You know, I don’t really think you’re going to hire me, but I put on a suit so I’m going to do the interview anyway.” or worse, “I don’t really think this relationship is going to work out, but let’s just wing it – I mean maybe I’m wrong, probably not, but still, I mean I guess. Here, I am at the point of no return. What do I have to lose?” I know these discouragements were meant to protect me from the grave disappointment associated with defeat. These proverbial words of wisdom were expressed to ensure that I’d survive to succeed unscathed, but I have a different perspective…. Since I was going to reach anyway, what I did was I assembled those people cautioning me to break my fall, should I have failed.
...Oh wait, I totally forgot! I haven’t even done this. Let’s address the elephant in the room. I’m the Valedictorian of the Class of 2018. I know I’m expected to talk to you about how I’ve done some incredible things that exceed everyone’s expectations, that I am loved by my mom and dad who infused me with a never surrender attitude, that I leave my legacy to my brother and sister here with you to transcend my accomplishments, as well as, the ambition and sacrifice of the generations that paved the way for me. My mentors: Mr Hayes, if there was anyone I could truly count on for anything – it was this viral, no virile guy! Ms. Sardina, who transformed me as a writer and as a person. She taught me the essentials of forming a cohesive argument, she exposed me to the harsh realities of the real world, and she challenged me to step away from outside influences to develop my own political views. Mr. Hutsko, who introduced me to the world of mathematics and its infinite (get it?) distinctions. He made it fun and allowed my curiosity to flourish, constantly trying to satisfy my insatiable desire for more. Ms. Aronson, who forced me (in newtons) to appreciate the physical world mathematically because it’s relevant...Einstein would certainly be proud. Mr. Konen, who reassured me that learning doesn’t have to be conventional; in fact, creativity and imagination are as essential as knowledge when the goal is to convey the message. And Dr. Conea, the bibliophile, who demonstrated to me the seductive nature of knowledge through her contagious love of learning. For this and so much more, I am humble and eternally grateful.

Whoof, okay, we’re passed that. Now, who cares? Seriously? I have done exactly what was prescribed to receive the honor bestowed upon me today. So instead of cataloging my accomplishments, let’s chat, shall we?
The muslim taxi driver and the Jewish American high school student navigate the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, debating the morning’s conflict with the sulphur of explosives ever present in the air. No, that’s not the lead into a joke, it really happened and it happened to me! Imagine my surprise when he tells me, “You don’t avoid swimming because you can drown, you don’t avoid driving because you can crash, you don’t live your life that way. Radicals are a narrow percentage of my people, and they are in no way representative of Islam. They are not Israeli.” You see, I was wrong, my perception was wrong...don’t worry this would not be the last time.

Last year, I applied to a program I should never have been admitted to, the Management and Technology Summer Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. When I was accepted to M&TSI, I was very excited and honored, so I celebrated, albeit prematurely. When I arrived to participate, the rails came off. Up until then, I felt quite accomplished. Then I met Justin - he was my same age, in the same grade, we could have been brothers until he explained how he had placed a satellite into space as a part of a program he was involved in with NASA. This guy’s the anomaly, right? No, uh uh the next kid had just finished his first start-up with a grant-funded product that measures adjusted G-load and stall speeds for pilots in real time. Suddenly, I felt well-rested and under-accomplished. I began internally promising to never Netflix binge again just as I met the future President of the United States, William Howlett, who at 17 years old had a published paper, France’s pre-revolutionary debt crisis. I was wrong…again.

I am the product of the survivors of multiple Communist regimes as well as the PreCambrian Period, tribal isolation, the common cold, fire, war, the Holocaust, Facebook...the genes of observation are conserved in my superhero DNA and I was beginning to sense a common theme...being wrong is absolutely essential to being right, being wrong is essential to growth, more importantly, embracing this wrong is a rite of passage to any chance at greatness. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, we are a generation of risk takers as evidenced by our intrepid approach to Instagram...granted, if we don’t get 3000 likes in 30 seconds we take it down, but it’s the risk we took putting it up that matters. It seems cliche to quote Gretzky but “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, there is wisdom in that anecdote. So at M&TSI I took a deep breath, compartmentalized my fragile humility neatly in my backpack next to my other essentials (my TI-nspire CX CAS Graphing Calculators, some sour patch, pocket gum, and a thoroughly torn copy of Moby Dick because, like Brennan says you’ve never read Moby Dick, you read it…I digress.) Fear is a lack of faith, so since I was already there I threw myself into accomplished groups, read incessantly, and found my strength in leadership--I would use my voice to convey our ideas in a way that would allow the builder, the investor, the innovator, and the critic to support our unprecedented concepts to fruition. They did...I found myself on the right side of wrong, and for a moment I held success in my hands. I learned not to get stuck in the celebration of these accolades or else you lose the integrity of true victory. You know why the symbol of Nike is a swoosh? The swoosh symbolizes the wings of the goddess of victory, Nike. It represents the idea that victory can never be truly relished or embraced; it is to be felt for a moment to then fly away because victory is only temporary, it incites the desire for more, and encourages us not to be satisfied with what we have accomplished.

I know, this world we live in, in this bubble, we’re blinded by the overwhelming minutiae of our daily lives. We lose touch with reality, and with that, all attributed meaning is lost. I mean it’s all about wearing your college sweatshirt in school and, of course, decorating our graduation caps with our college logos, am I right? Privilege is a trivial commodity; much like anything, those who don’t have it would do anything for it to use it for good, but those who do have it simply take it for granted. It’s the same idea - you can bathe in the delights of what you have and become stagnant, or you can take advantage of what you’ve been born into to inflict goodness in our dark world. In a time vs. hard work graph, you can either choose to resemble the asymptotic nature of a logistic curve or you can be linear, or maybe even exponential, growing and growing, continuously surpassing yourself. Let’s not relish in this momentary lapse of hunger; we must accomplish, and succeed.

As Nietzsche, the philosopher, so poignantly wrote, “And this secret spake Life herself unto me. ‘Behold,’ said she, ‘I am that which must ever surpass itself.’” Imagine if we used today to exceed the accomplishments of yesterday. What if we refused to turn a blind eye to the truth even when it doesn’t affect us directly? Slavery, global warming, gun violence, the fragility of our leaders, the antagonism around the world, the strengthening of the dollar, the researcher that arrived to his/her lab in the wee hours of the morning to search for the cure to an ailment your children will suffer from--why? Because each new day is yet another opportunity to better the last, to exceed our expectations because we understand the moments of our life are few but valuable.

This is why I didn’t want to talk about being Valedictorian. That moment is over. It’s gone. All I care about is the next moment, and the one after that. How will we make tomorrow better than today? What will we do? Look, you can celebrate graduation after this, but when that lunch is over – it’s over. And then it begins, or, rather, it continues. Take risks, learn more, be wrong and be wrong a lot because sooner than later, you’ll be right. Then, take that triumph as more motivation to be wrong again, so that the cycle continues. But always remember you won’t get that job, that girl is way out of your league, Graduate School at Harvard is simply impossible. And then, just do it anyways.

SOOOOOOO, I told you how my essay started, now I’m going to tell you how I ended it...I see myself as a long-term investment, with a promising potential return. Not like futures, Forex, and definitely not Bitcoin, more like an initial public offering after a few rounds of funding and substantial research and development. I am dedicated to recover from the margin call, rebound from unpredictable changes in the market, to rise like Apple after Macintosh with iPhone. But like any successful Venture Capital Investment, phase II is essential and defined in large part by location: my Cupertino, CA is the Wharton School of Business. See, I told you guys it wasn’t about the sweatshirt.
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