Robert H. Smith Speaks at Commencement
In an emotional ceremony at the Comcast Center, 700 undergraduates, 350 MBA
students and two doctoral students received their Smith School degrees on May
Delivering the keynote address was Robert H. Smith ’50, visionary builder and
developer in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and the man for whom the
Smith School is named. He is former chairman of Charles E. Smith Commercial
Realty, a division of Vornado Realty Trust, and former chairman of Charles E.
Smith Residential, a division of Archstone-Smith. Smith’s family company is best
known for developing and building the Crystal City complex in Northern Virginia.
Smith advised the graduates not to fear failure. Fear of failure, he said,
was the secret motivator behind many bad decisions.
“I am convinced that when people cheat, it is because they are afraid of
falling short. When a student cheats on a test, it is because he is afraid of
receiving a poor grade,” said Smith. “When a senior manager covers up corporate
misconduct, it isn’t merely greed that motivates him. It is fear of being
perceived as unsuccessful. Students who cheat on a test, because they are afraid
to fail, grow up to be senior executives, who lie about their corporation’s
quarterly earnings, all the while assuring analysts that they are doing just
Smith urged students to risk failure in order to pursue their dreams. “The
amazing side benefit of each setback you encounter is that it gives you an
opportunity to learn, but not in the usual incremental fashion. Failure gives
you the opportunity to make a leap of learning. When you have come to a place
where you have exhausted every other option, that is when you say ‘there must be
a better way to do this.’ And in finding that better way, you will discover
great success,” said Smith. He received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Following his address, Smith praised Dean Howard Frank, saying, “From the
start Howard Frank impressed me as a man who dreamed big dreams, who understood
that it takes big risks to achieve big goals.” It was the last commencement
ceremony over which Frank presided as dean of the Smith School.
Nicholas Singer ’08 delivered the undergraduate address; Daniel Bresette,
MBA’08, delivered the MBA address.
photo highlights & video of commencement on our Web site.