May 31, 2024

It’s Graduation Season

graduation students from behind
By: Rob Herndon

Summertime Feeling

Throughout May and June, millions of students across the nation reach that major life milestone of graduation. Some are leaving school and moving on to other educational institutions; others are heading into the workforce. But, to a person, I can guarantee that they are nervous about their future. This is why this is such an emotional time for all these students and their families. I participated in this rite of passage this year as a parent when my daughter graduated from Virginia Tech (VT). She has a vision of a future as an occupational therapist and is taking the next steps toward that goal through an Occupational Therapy Doctorate program at VCU starting next week. But, even with this vision of what she wants to build for herself, sometimes the world can seem daunting. However, I feel relieved that her Mom and I did all we could to make her ready to thrive in today’s world. A big part of that relief comes from knowing she’s been able to develop a great balance of both a managerial and entrepreneurial mindset. 

Wisdom from Entrepreneurs

If you read my last blog, I laid out some reasons why an entrepreneurial approach pays dividends in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment. These graduating students are entering exactly this type of environment. That’s why I was very impressed by the commencement speech at VT given by Octo Founder and CEO Mehul Sanghani. As he described his life story, I saw all eight of the Ice House life lessons on display. His immigrant parents worked insanely hard to build a better life for their children, eventually buying a local hotel in the small college town of Blacksburg, Virginia (home of VT). Mehul remembers the intense nature of this venture as the phone rang 24-7-365. Each time it rang, there was a customer on the line who needed support. This early exposure to running a small business set Mehul on a path to where, when he completed his studies at VT in 1998, he had a vision of starting his own business. When he finally launched that business at the age of 30, it was the $25,000 that his father had been able to save for decades, which gave Octo the operating capital it needed to get started. 

Fast forward 18 years later and he sold that business to IBM in 2022 for $1.2 billion. While I sat and listened to his story, I saw that it was primarily his entrepreneurial mindset that gave him the tools he needed to build and sustain a company of 1,500 employees. I thought as I looked out at the sea of thousands of graduates, what if just a small percentage of them had the same type of success as Mehul? How many millions of lives can they impact for the better? 

Entrepreneurship is Service-Minded

The motto of Virginia Tech is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). From my perspective as a parent, the university does an outstanding job of ensuring that this vision of service to our communities is deeply embedded in each and every graduating Hokie. Harkening back two thousand years, the Latin term “prosim” seemed to be a way of doing something that helped others in transformational ways. This concept is the root of entrepreneurial activity. As I described in this prior blog, when you have a vision of what you’d like to create, and you focus on solving the problems of other people, you’ll have the persistence necessary to create new solutions and thrive in our dynamic and complex world.

I’d ask you to consider what would happen if all of your students adopted the personal motto of Ut Prosim and combined it with the tools of an entrepreneurial mindset. How many of them could overcome the adversity in their lives just like Ice House entrepreneurs Clifton Taulbert, Sirena Moore-Thomas, and Dawn Halfaker? How many of them could be giving commencement speeches at their alma maters like Mehul in the coming years? And, as importantly, how many of them could build a comfortable and rewarding life for themselves and their families despite the happenings in the world around them?

To take the first steps and learn more about how the entrepreneurial mindset can positively impact you, your students or your community visit us at