Joan Solotar '86 2016 Commencement Address


Joan Solotar ’86, senior managing director at Blackstone Group, spoke to the class of 2016 at the University at Albany School of Business Commencement. Her remarks:

Dean Siegel, distinguished faculty and staff, families and friends, and, most importantly, graduates of the class of 2016: Great Congratulations!

I am honored to be with you today. I always love being back on campus… I had written that it was especially nice with no ice on the ground or wind tunnels whipping me across the quads however that second part actually happened.

Looking out at all of you, I’m reminded of myself 30 years ago.

While that’s a long time, not a lot has changed.

Some of my best memories from college are the times I spent hanging out at The Fountain and WT’s – the drinking age was 18 back then, so I guess that’s changed.

Like many of you, I struggled through tough classes or tough professors – one I remember well, and not so fondly, is Accounting 211.

And like you, when I was in school, we even had a Governor Cuomo – in fact, Mario Cuomo was the speaker at my graduation in 1986.

The point is: I’ve been sitting where you are today, so I understand the mix of relief and reservation, excitement and uncertainty that many of you are feeling.

Now, I know several of you already have jobs lined up, which is great. And those of you who don’t… that’s where I was, too.

When I left school in 1986, I had my degree in Management Information Systems,
my hopes of working in finance,
the love and pride of a family for whom I was the first to graduate college,
and not much else.

So I spent the summer after graduation interviewing for jobs.

I can still remember borrowing interview clothes from my mom, putting on a women’s bowtie – which, in my defense, was the style at the time – and taking the bus to the subway to get from Queens to downtown Manhattan.

I also remember the sinking feeling of getting rejected… again and again.

Finally, First Boston gave me a shot… as a research assistant… a job that I landed because they were looking specifically for someone with computer skills... The same skills that I acquired at Albany.

Since then, I’ve gained a lot of experience, but the most important thing I’ve gained is perspective… and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

They say the only thing you can give in five minutes is your two cents. I’ve already used half my time, so I’ll give it to you quickly.

First: You don’t need to know it all on Day 1… or in year 30 for that matter.

When I started out, my first project was to develop a merger model for 100 banks. Pretty simple, except for one tiny problem: I’d never seen a bank income statement or balance sheet.

It took me a seriously long time of trying to figure it out on my own before I realized that I could ask questions and ask for help.

The key is to find an environment where you can learn… and to make it a point to develop new skills at each point on your career path, whether you’re an entry-level analyst or the CEO. Learning is a life-time journey.

Second: If you put in the work, opportunities will come. As my friend Jeff always says – and which I recently learned he stole from someone else: The harder I work, the luckier I get.

No matter what your plans are today, you don’t know where your career will take you over the long term. I certainly didn’t. That’s why it’s so important to hustle… to dedicate yourself to the task in front of you… and to be fearless in the face of new challenges.

And that’s my real message to you: You are Great Danes. Yes, that makes us dogs. But it doesn’t make us… underdogs.

With the education you received here, you have the tools to compete with anyone.
Don’t doubt yourself.
Don’t be intimidated.
If you commit to learning, and working hard, the only limit to what you achieve is you – not somebody else from some other school – you.

Finally, even though you’re graduating, your relationship with Albany doesn’t have to end. In fact, it shouldn’t end.

Today, several of my closest friends are people that I met on this campus, several freshman year in Fulton. Some of my favorite colleagues also went to Albany. And over the years, I’ve had the chance to stay connected by mentoring or sponsoring talented students. One of them is Sarah Watson, who I am so proud of and honored to share this stage with today.

So, I promised my two cents, and I’ve given you three. Which is also a good life lesson: under-promise and over-deliver.

Those three cents can basically be summed up like this: Always remember where you came from, but never doubt how far you can go.

Albany class of 2016: Congratulations!