Paula Ebben’s Commencement Speech


If you watch the news on TV, you’ll recognize Paula Ebben. She’s one of the news anchors at WBZ, the local CBS affiliate. She recently gave a funny and touching commencement speech. It’s summarized here.

I feel very fortunate to be friends with her and her husband, Bill. Both of our sons were in the same year at the same school.

She offered up to the graduates five experiences outside of the classroom that they should seek in college, which I’ve cut and pasted below from the summary at the above link:

  1. Avoid safe spaces. If you exist in some little echo chamber only associating with people who agree with you all the time, you will learn nothing.
  2. There’s a presidential election this fall. Whatever you think – throw yourself into it. You’ll remember this election for the rest of your life.
  3. “You do you.” This is your chance to reinvent yourself. It’s a re-boot. Study what you want. Do some things just for the love of it.
  4. Attend to you inner life. Figure out for yourself how to seek the joy in being alive – when you are all alone. Take the time to do it now, and it will be invaluable to you forever.
  5. Make friends — like it’s your job. Introduce yourself to someone new each day and build a huge group of friends.

It was a great speech.

In particular, I was struck by how blunt she was with item #4. She encouraged people to feed their inner core, whether it was via spirituality, religion, music, or philosophy. “If you don’t,” she said, “you’ll start to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. And, as some of the adults here can tell you, it can take years to undo all that.”

The room went quiet for a long time.

I recently mentioned the same thing to two amazing founders with whom I met this week. They have been at it for some years, fighting and clawing through tremendous ups and downs. I was very up front with them that we at Kepha don’t invest in their space, but I wanted to be helpful and instead focused on them and their personal development and the need to nourish yourselves.

So, I mentioned Paula’s point of self-nourishment. We all then had a very honest and raw discussion about that topic.

Today, one of the founders sent to me this note:

I was thinking about our conversation and honestly have to say that was one of the most helpful conversations I have ever had especially since working on [our start-up]. Even though Kepha will not be a fit for my current venture I look forward to continuing our friendship and hopefully will get the opportunity to work together someday. If I could imagine what I would want my entrepreneur to VC relationship would look like, our meeting yesterday would be a perfect example.

I really like my job. Some days are pretty stressful. Some days are amazing. But, I do this job because I firmly believe that being an early-stage VC is a calling–and, I feel called to do it.

There are other ways to make money faster, such as public stocks, leveraged buy-outs, and growth equity investing.

But, if I can help people build companies and grow as entrepreneurs, if I can listen to wisdom from Paula and then share it with others, if I can see people become encouraged, then all of the work is worth it.

One thought on “Paula Ebben’s Commencement Speech

  1. Jo, I enjoyed reading this post and many of your others. As someone who started at Bain like you, and eventually found himself working in the field of higher education, graduations and commencements are a very rewarding part of my career and I appreciated reading your summary! Feel free to post this if you wish!

    Keep up the awesome blogging–it is impressive and your spirit really resonates with me!

    Matt – alum from the Bain Boston office

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