'Apply Purpose To Your Careers'

Robert Wolf, financier and presidential advisor, urges Suffolk University Sawyer Business School graduates to embrace the idea of 'business with purpose.'
Robert Wolf gives his commencement speech
Sawyer Business School Commencement Speaker Robert Wolf to graduates: "Regardless of where you stand on any issue, have a willingness to engage in open and honest dialogue—and as I’d say to my kids, 'think before you act.'"

On the 40th anniversary of his own graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Wolf—the former chairman and CEO of UBS, the global financial services firm, founder of 32 Advisors, and advisor to both President Biden and President Obama—urged the Class of 2024 to take what they have learned about “business with purpose” at the Sawyer Business School and “apply it to the careers you’re all about to enter, whatever those may be.”

Wolf described his own introduction to business with purpose when he was asked to chair the first diversity committee at UBS at a time when the financial world was only beginning to address this issue. “It completely changed the way in which I viewed my responsibilities as a leader, and translated to other areas of my life,” Wolf said. “Realizing that it was possible to ‘do well by doing good’ became a North Star in my career and helped guide me towards interests outside of finance that have changed my life for the better.”

Wolf told graduates he was envious of their “head start” in addressing the challenges of the world: “I am proud to see how issues like diversity, environmental/social/governmental [practices], and community affairs are being prioritized to the leaders of the next generation at a much earlier age.”

Pointing out that he, too, is a first-generation college student, Wolf began his remarks by asking all the first-generation students in attendance to stand and give themselves a round of applause, and the rest of the audience happily joined in.

Wolf received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree at the Sawyer Business School ceremony, one of three Suffolk commencements held at Boston’s Leader Bank Pavilion on Sunday, May 19.

From Wall Street to the White House

Wolf, a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, described how he began his career on Wall Street as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers, before joining UBS and rising to become the firm’s first American CEO. While at UBS, he crossed paths with “a relatively unknown junior senator from Illinois.” After that senator was elected president in 2008, Wolf became an economic advisor to President Obama, as well as a key surrogate during his 2012 re-election campaign. That same year he left UBS and later launched his own firm, 32 Advisors, a financial services firm.

He advised graduates to “remain humble” by pointing out that today, as the founder of a start-up, he’s the one who has to fix broken Wi-Fi and empty the trash. Because of that, Wolf said he’s “never forgotten the importance of answering people promptly, treating colleagues and clients with respect, and understanding that nothing is a given.”

Wolf reminded students that, especially in today’s increasingly polarized world, it’s important to “know the difference between free speech and hate speech, between open-mindedness and close-mindedness.” Regardless of where you stand on an issue, Wolf counseled, “have a willingness to engage in open and honest dialogue, and as I’d say to my kids, ‘think before you act.’”

Download video transcript [PDF]

'There was no holding you back'

Suffolk University President Marisa J. Kelly lauded graduates for embracing opportunities in the wake of the pandemic. “More than any class that I can remember, your class has been intent on getting out in the world,” Kelly said in her remarks. She gave many examples of the Class of 2024 doing just that: going on travel seminars to Singapore, Switzerland, and Rwanda, doing volunteer work in Boston and beyond, entering pitch competitions, working with organizations like LEGO and the Boston Celtics, and even founding their own companies.

Kelly also praised the graduates for their staying optimistic despite the increasingly politicized world they’re entering. “I believe that the Class of 2024 embodies hope,” she said. “Throughout your time here, you have believed that you can make a difference in the world, and you have acted to do so.”

She concluded by thanking Class of 2024 for “taking that leap of faith in Suffolk,” adding that “it is with great hope that we look forward to seeing what you do next.”

Sawyer Business School Dean Amy Zeng spoke of her affinity with the Class of 2024: She and most of the students all started at Suffolk in 2020, during the worst of the pandemic. "My path as a member of the Suffolk community began alongside yours, amidst the early tremors of a global upheaval. This shared journey has imparted lessons that are both profound and unparalleled,” she said, including adaptability, resilience, and compassion. “You have not only weathered the storm but emerged stronger,” she told the graduates. “May you continue to hone this resilience, for it will serve as your beacon in the face of adversity.”

Cynthia Dang giving her commencement speech
Sawyer Business School undergraduate student speaker Christina Dang addresses her graduating peers: "I see a generation that will innovate, inspire, question, disrupt, give back, and change society for the better."

'We did not survive a whole global pandemic to carry on life timidly'

The undergraduate class greeting was delivered by Christina Dang, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in entrepreneurship. She explained how before she came to Suffolk, she thought her identity consisted only of labels like “first-generation,” “Asian-American,” and “over-achiever.” Once at Suffolk, she realized that those labels “aren’t my scarlet letters, they are my strengths,” she said. “It may be easier for us to hide behind labels of our identity, but we did not survive a whole global pandemic to carry on life timidly,” Dang said. “Embrace your identity and grow to surpass your limits.”

Cynthia Moore giving her commencement speech
Sawyer Business School graduate student speaker Cynthia Moore to her fellow graduates: "The benefits you will experience when you are brave enough to do what makes your heart sing are unexpected and will fundamentally shift who you are, how you live, and what you give back to the world."

Graduate student Commencement speaker Cynthia Moore, who earned an Executive MBA, talked about the personal rewards she felt switching from a successful career at an investment firm to going into business as a special education advocate. “The most cherished of these [rewards] was when my son thanked me for leaving my career and when he told me that he was proud of what I do and that I always help others,” Moore said. “I have found joy, meaning, and prosperity as an advocate.”

Moore also thanked Suffolk for its commitment to diversity that “goes beyond the traditional,” and giving her the chance to earn a graduate degree without having an undergraduate degree.

Watch Christina Dang's Speech

Download video transcript [PDF]

Watch Cynthia Moore's Speech

Download video transcript [PDF]

About Robert Wolf

Robert Wolf is the founder of 32 Advisors, a holding company that includes the direct investing arm 32 Ventures and advisory services for corporate clients, and is chair of the AI-driven messaging software platform Community. Previously, he served as the chair and CEO of the global financial services firm UBS Americas and the president and COO of UBS Investment Bank.

In November 2022, Wolf was appointed by President Biden to the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board. He previously held three presidential appointments under President Obama: as a member of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and the Export Council. He also served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Border Infrastructure Task Force. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Obama Foundation, on the alumni board of the Wharton School, and on the leadership council of NYC’s Robin Hood Foundation, and formerly served as vice chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights.

Wolf has served as a contributor to Fox News/Fox Business since 2016 and has been named multiple times to Worth Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful People in Finance.

Wolf holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While at UPenn, he played on the varsity football team that won Ivy League championships in both the 1982 and 1983 seasons.

Commencement 2024

The Sawyer Business School Class of 2024 comprises 763 new alumni, with 380 undergraduate and 383 graduate degrees awarded.

The ceremony was one of three Suffolk Commencements held on Sunday, May 19, at Boston’s Leader Bank Pavilion. The University conferred a total of 2,013 undergraduate and advanced degrees to graduates from 39 states and 75 different countries. Twenty-eight percent of Suffolk’s 990 undergraduate degree recipients are first-generation college students.

Read More About Commencement 2024.


Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Ben Hall
Office of Public Affairs