Graduate Address by Jack Clift at the 2014 Pardee RAND Commencement

RAND Photography/Diane Baldwin

Pardee RAND graduate Jack Clift speaks at 2014 Commencement

I hope you will excuse me if I appear nervous, this is by far the largest sober audience I have ever addressed… and Susan said I wasn't allowed to distract you with powerpoint slides, or a whiteboard full of Greek symbols.

First, on behalf of the graduating students, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of the family, friends and loved ones who supported us and allowed us to celebrate here today.

You have given us your love and support throughout this academic marathon, cheering us on and helping us when we inevitably hit the proverbial wall – and without it, many of us would have struggled to cross the finish line at all.

So, I invite you all to join me in a round of applause, not only for all of you who are here today, but also for those who are thinking of us today from afar, and for those loved ones who are looking down on us today from above.

Admittedly, not all of us posted the most impressive time to complete this particular marathon… but after today, we will have a certificate to say that we finished… and doing it once is quite enough!

I'd also like to thank my fellow Fellows and Graduates for the wide range of social activities that kept our spirits high, from happy hours at Barney's Beanery to getting together to watch the big game at Barney's Beanery to occasional ill-advised late night Europop karaoke… at Barney's Beanery.

Thank you also to PRGS, for giving us each day our daily OJT — and for rewarding our attendance at seminars with the promise of "light refreshments" — a unique and successful incentive system, predicated entirely on the phenomenon that students love cookies.

I would be a lesser man – or perhaps a smaller man – were it not for those delicious incentives.

Friends and family, you may be wondering what exactly is the return on investment for all your patience and support. What does it mean to have a Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School? And my fellow graduates, as we emerge blinking into the sun, from behind our papers piled higher and deeper – what now?

The dissertation topics you will hear today probably don't paint a simple picture, reflecting research interests in healthcare and nutrition, security and defense; corporate governance, environmental protection and economic development; education, migration, congressional polarization; objective decision-making and subjective well-being; and each dissertation involving a range of different techniques to solve the problems it addresses. Philosophers and scientists among us agree that if you examined every PRGS dissertation that has ever fallen from the sky, no two would be exactly alike.

The careers of our alumni are even more dispersed. Just in the past decade, our graduates have taken positions in a wide array of organizations, from cutting edge companies in technology, biopharmaceuticals, energy, aerospace, economic consulting and strategy consulting, to government positions at the federal, state and local levels in the US and other countries around the world; our recent alumni are building careers at multilateral organizations and NGOs including the World Bank, the OECD or the European Commission; or teaching in universities in exotic locations around the globe, from Karachi and Bangalore, to Paris, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So what are the common threads that bind us all together?

In 1970, RAND became the only think tank to house a Ph.D.-granting graduate school, and took on the responsibility to prepare a cadre of individuals who could immerse themselves in RAND's rigorous interdisciplinary research culture and then go out into the world, and apply diverse skills to challenges found in the public, non-profit and private sectors – an alternative means for RAND to bring its influence to the world, going beyond researching the world's problems – sending people out to fix them.

Objective Analysis, Effective Solutions… Please Hire Our Graduates

Forty years later, perhaps to emphasize the practical, action orientation of its graduates – and remove the school from some of the ivory tower stereotypes that can afflict research organizations and traditional academic programs alike – PRGS adopted its own tagline in 2010:

Pardee RAND Graduate School: Be The Answer

— a tagline that captures what many believe to be the quintessence of the school, evoking, as it does, the timeless gentle wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi … combined with the unrelenting, ass-kicking attitude… of a Nike running commercial.

"No excuses: the headache you get from writing Stata code all night is just weakness leaving your brain."

But as my cohortmates and I used to ask each other at all-RAND mixer events – with a lukewarm slice of Dominos pizza in one hand, and a lukewarm can of Coors Light in the other –

What is the true meaning of "Be the Answer"?

As a student, I considered this in relation to 3 key questions:

  • Is it enough to measure the problems in the world? No, be the answer
  • Is it sufficient to come up with a bunch of possible answers? No, be the answer.
  • And perhaps most importantly,

  • What has two thumbs and 3 committee signatures? … Be the answer.

The last one I cannot emphasize enough to all you current fellows in the audience…

As a graduate, on the other hand, I have attempted to take the combination of Gandhi thought and Nike action with me into the workplace and have learned some lessons along the way.

As with any RAND recommendation, it turns out that "Be the answer," despite being only 3 words, has some important caveats — and I would like to footnote some for the graduates as you commence the next phase of your journey.

Be the ANSWER, yes — but try to make sure people are asking intelligent questions. There is a limit to this – in the real world, people will not always choose to ask the questions you would ask yourself, and many will not accept "trust me, I'm a doctor" as a reason to change their mind. You may sometimes need to answer mediocre questions to earn the right to answer intelligent questions in the future. Be the answer, then, to the most intelligent questions you can persuade people to ask.

Be THE answer, perhaps — but be open to the idea that there are many possible answers to every interesting question, and rarely an answer that is perfect in theory and achievable in practice. Be aware that you don't have all the answers, and may not even be the best judge of answers at first – embrace every opportunity to learn from the experience, wisdom and past mistakes of others. Let your pursuit of answers be relentless, but don't let it be single-minded.

BE the answer – sometimes – but be aware that your impact may be multiplied by enabling other people to BE the answer or find good answers themselves, or by letting others execute on your thinking. The investment you and others have made in your degree will have a much higher return that way.

By this I mean, for you future titans of industry — find ways to outsource tasks that you do not need to do yourself – time is money, so they say. For those of you making your impact in government, find ways to empower those lower in the bureaucracy to take initiative and make good decisions themselves, so that many problems can have an answer without ever reaching your desk. And for my friends pursuing academic careers — if you are spending too much time searching for basic information or coding focus group responses or churning through literature reviews or cleaning up data sets line by painstaking line… find more graduate students.

All in all, the message: try to bring about as many good answers as you can manage, to the most intelligent and important questions you can get. "Be the answer," for short.

As is traditional, let me conclude with some final exhortations consistent with our PRGS ethos:

Remember that a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. [Adapted from Mahatma Gandhi (b. 1869 – d. 1948)]

If people disappoint, tend to be inquisitive to promote discussion, want to find out what their thinking was, want to find out what their feelings are… and did they learn anything? [Adapted from Earl Woods/Tiger Woods Nike commercial, 2009]

Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as though you will live forever. [Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (b. 1869 – d. 1948)]

Find your greatness. [Nike commercial, 2012]

Be the change you wish to see in the world. [Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (b. 1869 – d. 1948)]

Just do it. [Nike commercial, first used in 1988]

Thank you all, and please enjoy the rest of the program.