Daniel’s Commencement Speech at Trinity

May 16, 2011 Published under Introspection

by Adeena Schlussel

Daniel recently received the honor of delivering the commencement speech at Trinity University.

Check out his funny and insightful and advice for the graduating students in the text below!

Daniel Lubetzky Commencement Speech

May 14th, 2011

Let me tell you why I am terrified to be here today.

The last time I was on a stage at Trinity things did not go well.

It was the fall of 1986. I was a freshman and I auditioned for a Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice. If you can believe it, my accent back then was even thicker than it is now. So Dr. Bloom, the Director, gave me a role on two conditions: I had to take diction lessons from Dr. Swinny – to learn to enunciate; and I’d be the Prince of Morocco, so that people can justify that confused accent.

I took the role very seriously: the Prince of Morocco, traveling thousands of miles to ask for Portia’s hand. During rehearsals Dr. Bloom kept telling me, bigger, bigger, it’s a big stage, fill it up. We need more passion.

Opening night came. The theatre was packed. Things were going great – you could feel the electricity in the air. Then my turn came. I came out into the stage. And people started laughing out loud. I didn’t understand why. In between the spotlights, I could see people literally falling from their chairs, in the floor, laughing. I was terrified. I was singlehandedly destroying this great play. The crew was going to hate me!

But when I came off stage after my exit, everyone in the crew started saying, “That was amazing. You were so funny. You were hilarious. That was great.” I never confessed this to anyone then, but that was when I realized that my role was supposed to be comedic. For 3 months of rehearsals I was sooo over the top everyone assumed I was in on the joke.

This is the first time I’ve come clean before the Trinity community – and I doubt that President Ahlburg would have asked me to be your commencement speaker if he had known about this.

But here is why I am terrified. Today I have so much to share with you guys. What if you end up thinking I am joking when I am serious? Will all your hard work unravel? Will your lives go asunder, all because of me? I can already see it: Maduka Ogba, instead of winning a Nobel prize for his work in biological engineering, ends up a choreographer for Britney Spears; Ryan Lubi, destined to become a Senior Advisor to the President of Pakistan, is instead anointed social director at the Coates Library.

[Jenna Cantwell [who delivered the Student Commencement Address]…No, I think she will be fine.]

Careers down the drain: all because of the thick accent of a confused Mexican Jew.

You see what I am afraid of? You are laughing already.

No, we all know you are going to be fine. You are such an exceptional group of people. You will do great. As long as you follow one single rule. Feel free to embrace or ignore other advice. But this one you must follow: Talk with yourself, often and deeply.

Make the explicit point to TALK WITH YOURSELF. To ask yourself questions. TO UNDERSTAND YOURSELF. To figure out what it is that you are most passionate about. What drives you? What is YOUR PURPOSE? ALL OF US HAVE ONE. Yours could be to make others happy. Or to invent a cure for a disease. To be a good parent. To take care of others. To keep this planet clean. Or to franchise Taco Taco nationally so I can get some of those delicious breakfast tacos in NYC. But whatever you end up pursuing, let it be something you love and enjoy. Your answer most likely will not come overnight. And it may evolve as you gain other experiences. But that is why it is so important that you listen to your inner self along the way.

Think about it: knowing what makes you happy is presumably the first step to actually being happy. So why is it that so many go their entire lives without considering it? It is tough work, actually, not just because of the modern culture of tweets and facebook where time for deep reflection is almost extinguished, but because these are tough questions that are not easy to answer. But if you never ask them, you will never even start the journey to find the answers. And the Journey itself may be the answer.

You have those answers within you. You owe it to yourself to carve out the time to find them. This is one task nobody else in the world can do for you – and you should not let anyone else dictate those answers for you.

If you can find what you love, and do it, your success is guaranteed – because every day pursuing what you care about will fulfill you. But if you let societal pressure fool you into thinking that your “goals” are financial success, or power, or fame, or other external metric on which you benchmark yourself against others, you’ll be like a mouse running on a treadmill, never quite reaching the goal.

Even though this advice may seem obvious, you will find that in your life, surrounded by a culture that celebrates materialism and consumerism, at many points you will be tempted to measure your success against that of others. It happens to me and I have to remind myself of my priorities. Many talented and smart people get lost chasing the wrong goal. And you can see it destroy them. Don’t misunderstand me: I am a big believer in the power of market forces and capitalism. And it is easier to philosophize about how wealth is not your priority when you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars in student loans. [I can already see Jenna’s Dad getting reflux] Making money IS an important byproduct and tool. But it will come much easier to you when you find something you are passionate about and you recognize money as a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

And to find that end, you have to TALK TO YOURSELF, DEEP INSIDE YOUR INNERMOST SELF.

YOU HAVE TO DREAM. CONSCIOUSLY DAY-DREAM. Never be afraid to dream – so you can visualize the heights you will reach. Imagine new worlds. Imagine yourself in new places. And never believe anyone that tells you “it can’t be done.”

Every major accomplishment starts with some people thinking it is impossible to achieve it and naive to try. Indeed, looking back today, some of what I tried seems crazy to me.

I declined a secure job at a Wall Street law firm to try my luck at getting Arabs and Israelis to work together. It all started at Trinity, actually. I wrote my thesis on the “Influence of Economics in Resolving the Arab Israeli conflict.” Two of my thesis advisors loved it. The third thought I was insane. (He was probably right) The only place where my 268-page thesis was popular was in medical circles. That’s because if Doctors needed to prescribe something to help their patients fall asleep, this was it. [I think a student down there said this speech is having the same effect on him]

So I tried to turn theory into practice and started PeaceWorks. I filled my legal briefcase with jars of sundried tomato spreads, made through cooperation among Israelis, Palestinians, Turks and Egyptians. I would start my day at 7am on 122nd Street and Broadway, and walk down the street, shop by shop, then finish at Wall Street that night. The next day I’d deliver whatever I had sold from the trunk of my car. 16 years and countless mistakes and long nights later, in spite of the vicissitudes of the conflict, our trading partners still continue to work together, our products are sold in thousands of stores, and PeaceWorks gave birth to other ventures like KIND and OneVoice.

When I helped launch the OneVoice Movement, people thought it would be impossible to mobilize Israelis and Palestinians at the grassroots to propel their elected representatives to end the conflict. They said we could not end the conflict. And nine years later…..

…I guess the skeptics were right on that one!

But I am only partly kidding.  Because OneVoice will not stop working until we achieve peace between Israelis and Arabs. It used to take most of my time trying to explain that young activists on the ground could forge change. Having witnessed what young people like you did in Egypt and Tunisia, that is no longer a question. Now the only question is whether we can have such impact in the Israeli-Arab context. To me it is not really a question, but an imperative. There is no alternative. Failure is not an option. And we cannot wait for someone else to do what needs to be done.

We live in a day and age where we are all OneVoice, in a much broader sense. One. Our fates are interlinked.  The challenges that your generation is inheriting are daunting. From resource scarcity to global warming, tackling these challenges will require that we recognize our shared humanity and work together. Don’t look around for someone else to solve these problems. You are the ones with the power and responsibility to lead the way. We are not leaving you many options.  There is no alternative.  You must prevail.

Within these challenges, there are also so many opportunities. Think creatively. Deploy market forces to tackle social problems. Build business models with social responsibility and social impact.

Now is your opportunity to dream big. To challenge assumptions. To dare reinvent the world. To take some risks.


Be introspective and evaluate what you could have done better during your day. Did you give it your very best to accomplish what you set out to? You are with yourself more time than anyone else. So take advantage to explore what you did wrong, or what you could have done better.

TALK WITH YOURSELF TO ANALYZE -HOW- YOU- CAN -BE A BETTER –HUMAN BEING. Did you treat someone differently from how you should have? Did you do what you could today to make this world a little better? Did you surprise a stranger with an unexpected act of KINDNESS?

Did you thank everyone worth thanking? Let’s take one moment and thank all the people that brought us to this point: our Professors; the administration team; our parents who sacrificed so much to get us here; our siblings, our friends, our loved ones. And to the people who enrich our lives every day but don’t get the recognition they deserve. People like Yolanda Rangel from the cafeteria. Where are you Yolanda? Yolanda, do you realize that EVERY Trinity student I asked to reflect on who made a difference in their 4 years here mentioned your name? You enriched the lives of hundreds, with no expectation other than to put smiles in their faces. THANK YOU. That’s quite a commitment to excellence.

TALK TO YOURSELF, because along the road, as you commit to excellence and aim high, there will be times when you fall. And the higher you climb, the bigger the fall. Sometimes that fall will hurt. A lot. And at THOSE times, when you TALK WITH YOURSELF, it is most important that you LOVE YOURSELF and cut yourself some slack.  Be comfortable making mistakes. As long as you learn from them.  But don’t be afraid to keep climbing, and falling.  For failures, and the lessons we draw from them, most often precede our greatest successes.

I cannot think of any venture I have initiated where an earlier failure wasn’t an important precursor in an eventual success.

Failure holds the seeds for greatness. So long as you water those seeds with introspection, they will be the root of your success.

So when you fall and are most vulnerable, remember that you climbed.  Remember that you tried. And get up and try again.

Whatever you set as your mountaintop, all that matters is that you be true to yourself in figuring out what that is, and that you give it the best you’ve got. So that when you look back, as you continue that conversation with yourself, you will know you’ve lived life fully, with integrity, passion, and fun. Enjoy the Ride. And enjoy the conversation!

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  1. Nicolle Hirschfeld said:

    This commencement speech was great in the first person. So well delivered. Perfect for the audience and occasion. Thank you. Nicolle Hirschfeld, Dept. of Classical Studies, Trinity University

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