When Ursula M. Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp., delivered Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 145th commencement address in 2011 (see “Final Word” on Page 60 for an edited excerpt), she advised the graduates to look for and seize the “awesome opportunities” that exist alongside the “sobering challenges” of the day.
Burns started at Xerox as an intern and, as the head of the company today, she is the first Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company. “You’ve got to accentuate the positive / Eliminate the negative / And latch on to
the affirmative / Don’t mess with Mister In-Between,” she told the MIT graduates, reciting the lyrics of a Johnny Mercer song. Her son, Malcolm, was in that graduating class.
Reading the bios of The Network Journal’s “40 Under Forty” honorees and listening to their life stories during interviews for their profiles in the magazine, it’s as if Burns had sat down all of these young men and women as they were leaving school and drummed the same message into their heads. Whether navigating the landscape of a given profession or the entrepreneurial arena, each member of TNJ’s 16 classes of honorees seems to have followed the script that Burns laid down.
A year after she gave the commencement address at MIT, Burns did the same at Columbia University, where she had earned her master’s degree in engineering. “We need to shine a light on what we do … make what we do exciting to young people. And all of you can help — by volunteering in schools … becoming active in professional associations … by mentoring and giving young people positive role models. You can all be superstars to young people,” she declared.
Again, it was as if she had written the community engagement script for the young men and women who would become TNJ honorees.
In the pages that follow, we present a small nugget of the life of each member of our 16th class of 40 Under Forty Achievement Award winners. For the first time, the writers of these profiles include senior journalism students, all of them from York College, City University of New York. The idea to engage the students in this way came from professor Claire Serant of York’s journalism department. In agreeing, admittedly after some hesitation, to this experiment, we, too, followed the Burns script. More than an exciting opportunity to put their journalism skills to work, it was an opportunity to expose the students to positive role models — a chance for them to speak directly to young superstars who had attained the level of success to which they aspired. Without knowing it, our honorees were mentoring even as they were being interviewed. Everyone was a winner in this experiment.
Congratulations to our York College writers for a job well done.
Congratulations to the 2013 class of “40 Under Forty” honorees on your outstanding careers.
— The Editors
Profiles by Toccara Castleman, Bernita Dorch, Renee Flagler, Janelle Gordon, Bevolyn Williams-Harold
York College (City University of New York) Journalism Department: Khorri Atkinson, Chantell O. Black, Amelia Dabulis, Gilberto Gonzalez, Andrew Johnson, Paulana Lamonier, Nene Sangare