Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert to Graduates: 'Do What Hasn’t Been Done'

Speaking to the Class of 2018 on the occasion of Lehigh’s 150th Commencement ceremony, Cathy Engelbert ’86 encouraged graduates to find and boldly pursue their passions, to constantly seek out ways to better themselves and to challenge themselves to make an impact no matter where their careers may take them.

But Engelbert, who has risen to the very pinnacle of her profession as CEO for the global professional services firm Deloitte, also used her reflective, personal address to stress to graduates the importance of always remembering what matters to them most—and assured them that great professional success can be balanced against a happy, fulfilling family life.

“One of the most unique parts of graduation day is that it’s a day that symbolizes the closing of one chapter of your life and the start of another,” Engelbert said. “It’s a day of reflection and excitement for what’s to come. So, in that spirit, today I would like to share with you three general life lessons that I have learned over the years that have helped me on my journey since graduating from Lehigh—and the ways in which I predict they will come to life for you as you head into your careers.”

In her first of those three lessons, Engelbert challenged graduates to “do what hasn’t been done.” With the world growing ever more tech-focused, she said, it’s essential that the leaders of tomorrow find creative, impactful ways of using new technologies for good. By doing this, she said, graduates could “prove the doom and gloom of today wrong.”

“I encourage you to stay optimistic and play an active, key role in carving the path leveraging your uniquely human skills—like creativity, empathy, communication and complex problem-solving,” she said. “Reinvention at every stage will not only still matter, but it will matter even more because of the pace of change today.”

Engelbert’s second lesson—”Schedule your personal updates”—was also rooted in the age of tech. Just as the students must constantly update their various devices to ensure they are operating at peak performance, Engelbert said, so too must they as individuals undergo occasional “personal updates.” But while their smartphones may prompt them to implement the latest software updates, only they can take the initiative to move forward with their personal updates, she said.

Finally, with her third and “most important” lesson, Engelbert implored graduates to “stay anchored on what matters to you most.”

“For me, that means focusing on my family,” she said. “I foresee that a lot of you will have the same root in family… and that you’ll also blur the lines between work and purpose more than ever before. You will reflect about the fact that doing business and doing good don’t have to be two separate things.

She added: “I’m sure many of you have a purpose you’re passionate about. That doesn’t end today with graduation. You can carry that through whatever you’re going to do next… from graduate school to entering the workforce. There’s a push to come together as social issues grow in depth, severity and priority. I challenge you to take a bold stance and make a difference in your day-to-day work.”

Engelbert has certainly done precisely that over the course of her long and successful career. As Deloitte's CEO, she  leads one of the country’s largest professional services organizations, and is responsible for more than 90,000 professionals who provide audit and assurance, tax, consulting, and risk and financial advisory services to more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500, producing measurable and enduring impact for clients, people, communities and society.

Since graduating from Lehigh with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting, Engelbert has had a distinguished career serving large and complex global clients. She previously led the U.S. audit practice and currently serves on Deloitte’s Board of Directors. Today, she advises C-Suite leaders on issues from business transformation to how technology and innovation influences the way that people work and live.

She has been listed as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women for the last three years and is ranked on Glassdoor’s annual Employees’ Choice Awards honoring the 50 Highest Rated CEOs, and among Crain’s 50 Most Powerful Women in New York. Engelbert is also recognized as one of Working Mother magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Moms in 2016 and 2017 and one of Fast Company magazine’s Most Productive People.

She was introduced by Dipti Gulati ’90, a partner at Deloitte, who praised Engelbert as a “strong supporter of family and of work and family balance,” as well as a groundbreaking leader in the world of professional services.

Concluding her address, Engelbert read to graduates a letter that she wrote to the Cathy Engelbert of 1986—the one who would have been sitting among her fellow graduates, with her entire life ahead of her. In the emotional letter, the elder Engelbert told her younger self that she was on the cusp of an amazing personal and professional journey—though one that would be marked not only by triumphs but also struggles and tragedies, including the death of her father, just one year after her Lehigh graduation, in 1987.

“My best advice to you in this moment, as I look back: remember that how you respond during the challenging times really defines who you are,” she said. “Some of these challenging times turn into the best growth opportunities. It might not feel that way—but stay strong and you will succeed.”

A Passion for Discovery

Commencement ceremonies were officially opened by Kevin L. Clayton, ’84 ’13P, chairman of the Board of Trustees, who then turned the stage over to Lehigh President John Simon. Simon welcomed the graduating students and their guests, along with the trustees and members of the Class of 1968, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary next month.

Noting that the rows of students represented a sea of colors from their regalia’s stoles and cords that represent various academic degrees and disciplines, Simon encouraged attendees to engage the students in conversations to learn the stories behind the adornment.

He then introduced Gorgi Pavlov ’14 ‘18G, the first of three student speakers. In representing the day’s graduate students, Pavlov spoke of the “immense honor” of addressing the graduates, and mused that he may well have been the first student from Macedonia to have earned that distinction.

Pavlov recalled his first impression of Lehigh, formed only by the vibrant images he found on the university website. When he boarded the plane to come to Bethlehem and begin his undergraduate studies, he said he came in search of a “place to grow, thrive and succeed,” and that he was excited by the prospect of exploration and discovery.

Through the pursuit of his doctoral degree, he said that this passion for discovery was amplified. As he prepared to be awarded his Ph.D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering, Pavlov reflected on the opportunities he found at Lehigh. In fact, he told his advisor during his thesis defense that “I have been to the Mountaintop—campus, that is—and I have seen the Promised Land.”

Today, he added, “those words have incredibly different meaning for me. The promised land is now right in front of me—all of us—new graduates, heading on to discover new horizons and explore. Today, we leave Lehigh with a newfound sense of genius, the one imparted to us by this living laboratory where we grew, we thrived and we succeeded. Now it is on us to make a difference and make it count.”

‘Precious Keepsakes'

Simon then introduced Senior Class President Hai Le ’18, who during his time at Lehigh has taken on numerous leadership roles, including impactful work with Engineers Without Borders.

In his remarks, Le acknowledged the “happy, sleep-deprived faces” of his classmates and thanked Lehigh staff, faculty and trustees, as well as all those who gathered to honor the graduating students. “I think I speak for everyone,” Le said, “when I say thank you for your unconditional love and support that helped us get to this point in our lives.”

Le asked his classmates to harken back to their first days at Lehigh, as they wandered around an unfamiliar campus and encountered “the high level of squirrel population roaming around chasing acorns.”

“Where did our college experience go? It really flashed right before our eyes,” he said, before asking classmates to reflect on their most memorable moment at Lehigh.

“It could be good, bad, awkward even,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. However, this memory was the first thing you thought of and that’s what makes it special and unique to you. These memories are the precious keepsake that was the foundation to who you become during your experience here.”

He then encouraged the graduating seniors to “straighten up, get ready to walk on stage, smile for the camera and get your quarter of a million-dollar handshake from President Simon.”

‘There’s Always Gonna be Another Mountain’

Finally, Simon introduced the day’s last student speaker, Erin Garrity ‘18. Garrity, who was elected by the student senate to offer remarks, studied in Galway, Ireland during her Lehigh career and was also very active in the Greek community.

Garrity, who was about to be awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering, said she started her Lehigh experience like every other freshman, at the bottom of the mountain.

“I was at the mail center with way too many textbooks in my backpack,” she said. “The trek up to my dorm seemed impossible. Like most other freshman, I didn’t know the bus route—and I was far too embarrassed to ask for help.”

Sophomore year found her progressing past her pre-requisite classes and taking on leadership roles. By her junior year, she mastered the balancing act of juggling classes, extracurriculars, friendships and internships.

“Senior year, I finally made it up to the Lehigh lookout,” she said. “Peering out over Bethlehem and a campus full of accomplishments—the biggest one being that I finally mastered the bus schedule...It was definitely not easy to get to the top. But we did it.”

In closing, Garrity quoted from a Miley Cyrus song:

"There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna want to make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb."

Addressing her fellow graduates in the Class of 2018, she said, “Thank you for climbing this mountain with me.  Now go out there and conquer your next mountain.”

Commencement day weather was sunny and warm …… (temps reached 70 degrees F by the 10 a.m. start of the ceremony) …there were 1,103 undergraduates in the Class of 2018…they hailed from 42 states and 21 countries…. undergraduates majored in 60 different disciplines …. there were 402 students who received Master’s Degrees and 59 who received doctoral degrees…of the 1,564 total graduates, degree recipients came from 42 states and 53 countries and majored in 91 disciplines overall … for the sixth year, the commencement ceremony incorporated live video through two large-scale video boards on either side of the stage. …. the ceremony began with an invocation from Rev. Lloyd Steffen, University Chaplain and professor of religion studies, and was followed by the national anthem, which was sung by Quinn A. Furnald ’18 … Gorgi Pavlov ’14, ’18G, delivered the Graduate Student Remarks, and remarks by undergraduates were delivered by Hai H.Le ’18, senior class president, and Erin A. Garrity ’18….Patrick A. Fischer ’97, ’98G,  outgoing president of the LUAA, welcomed the new alumni … the ceremony officially concluded with the ringing of the bell by representatives of the classes of 1968 and 2018 ... the benediction was offered by Walead Mosaad, director of Muslim Student Life… the Allentown Band, under the direction of conductor Ronald H. Demkee, delivered its 37th consecutive performance at Lehigh’s commencement ceremony. It is America's oldest civilian concert band, with its first documented performance on July 4, 1828.


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