Advice

Anne-Marie Slaughter: ‘Care Is as Important as Career’

May 6, 2016

Anne-Marie Slaughter also stressed the importance of heart and family in her University of Utah commencement speech

When I was in college, back when the dinosaurs that you have so many wonderful skeletons of here in Utah roamed the earth, I mastered the rule of three: No matter how complicated the subject I was trying to study, it was always easier to remember it if I broke it into three parts.

So today is a day of emotion and excitement for all of you. You’re going to be hearing and thinking and feeling many things. But I hope when it’s all done, when you leave, you will remember three very important points.

First, care is as important as career.

In so many ways, college is about career. When you come to college, you come to be educated broadly—what Montaigne referred to as furnishing the back room of your mind.

But you’re also preparing for a future career. And for those of you who are graduating today from professional schools and in Ph.D. programs, your time here has been directly about learning the knowledge and acquiring the skills for your career.

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What do we mean when we talk about a career? It’s a professional journey—one that we hope will ascend or at least allow you to continue learning and growing throughout your life. And it is a way of earning a living. In many ways, your career is a lifelong process of investing in yourselves, in the skills, the knowledge and personal growth and development.

Care is investing in others. It is work that is often unpaid. Although, there are also many paid care careers, caring professions like healthcare, teaching or ministry. But care is typically valued far less in our society than the work of your careers.

Women who are lawyers or business people or engineers or in any other profession, when they step back to care for family members or even step out of the workforce often report that they feel they have immediately tumbled in social prestige. They say one minute they’re valued for the work they do and the income they bring in and then suddenly they’re much less valued. And men who make those choices to defer a promotion, to be the lead parent for their children, not only have their commitment to their careers cast into doubt, they often find their very manhood is questioned.

And yet those choices, those choices to put family first, at least some of the time, are choices that your parents made that were necessary to ensure that all of you are here today getting your degrees.

And some day you are going to have to make the choices to find the time and the love to be able to care for all of them, for the loved ones, the parents and the grandmothers and the other family members who are here so proud to see you graduate today.

Read more: Jane Goodall: ‘Remember to Live to Your True Human Potential’

So care is vitally important from a social point of view, an economic point of view, indeed even a national security point of view. But care is equally important for all of you—for men as well as for women.

You will grow and learn and develop by investing in others just as much as by investing in yourselves. You will discover a new side of yourself, a side of yourself that takes as much pleasure and pride when others succeed as when you do. The value of investing in others is, of course, well understood by many schools of moral philosophy and great religions, including, of course, the LDS church.

That’s the first lesson: Care is as important as career.

The second is that heart is as important as head.

Again, so much of our education is about head. It’s about filling all of your heads with the knowledge that you need and the habits of inquiry and intellectual curiosity that will serve you over a lifetime. But many of you, all of you, are going to be pursuing careers in a world in which heart may be the only thing that is not automated.

My friend Dov Seidman, who’s a business consultant and a journalist has written that we have moved from the industrial age to the knowledge age or the industrial economy to the knowledge economy, to the human economy.

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In the industrial economy, we hired hands. In the knowledge economy, we hire heads. In the human economy, we will hire hearts.

Machines will be increasingly intelligent and, indeed, for those who are in computing science, you know those machines will learn very much the way humans learn. What humans will bring are the traits of our heart—the traits that cannot be programmed into software.

Dov calls them creativity, passion, character and collaboration. I would add compassion and empathy. There’s a deeper point here. Dov Seidman is saying that it is heart that is at the core of our humanity.

In the enlightenment, it was head. It was reason ruling the passions. Indeed, think about Descartes: I think, therefore I am. Today, it is feelings and care and empathy and daring that define us. I feel. I think. I dare. I empathize, therefore I am.

And it is interesting to think that we use the word heart to refer both to love and to courage. Love and bravery. Heart matters as much as head.

That message is particularly important for a university. Indeed, a university is a community. And in any community, we learn to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and to feel for them and with them. Without those feelings, without that heart, we cannot have reasoned dialogue. We cannot persuade other people unless we ourselves are willing to be persuaded.

This great university has demonstrated that it is a community where reasoned dialogue can take place, where people can reason, talk, grow and change from the heart.

The third and last lesson: Family is as important as fame.

So often we talk about work and family as if they were in eternal tension, pulling at us in opposite directions. And I’ll be honest, some of the time it does feel like that, when your child has an earache and it undoes an entire week of meetings.

But none of you would be sitting here without your families. Whether those are your biological families or the people whom you love and love you and support you and whom you choose to make your families. We indeed just heard Charles Koronkowski [the student speaker] say we have become a family.

Family, in its many different incarnations, is not the thing that you have to struggle to make time for as you reach for the stars. Family is the foundation of your ability to thrive.

Read more: Michelle Obama: ‘Excellence Is the Most Powerful Answer You Can Give’

It was one of my own students who taught me that, who in my office looked at me and she said: “I don’t understand constantly this idea that we have to choose between work and family because, without family I couldn’t do any of the things that I do.”

Family is your foundation. I should also say family keeps you humble, which is valuable, as you go forward. I live with two teenage boys. There is no danger that my head will ever swell.

That lesson that family is just as important as fame is particularly important for the men in the audience. It is men who often still find that their families—their parents, their wives, even their siblings—that their families define their life success in terms of what they do for a living.

Why is that? Why should we expect men to be the constant provider, to stay in the workplace, when perhaps many men would rather provide care rather than cash?

Would rather reach a different balance with their life partners to invest in their families as well as in their careers.

One man wrote me that he had left his job when it was clear that the growth potential of his children was greater than the growth potential of his company. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So one more time, here are the three points, precepts, principles that I hope you will remember: Care is as important as career, heart is as important as head and family is as important as fame. These are propositions that are particularly relevant for all of you as graduates of this university in this state.

The first inhabitants of this state, the Goshutes, the Shoshone, the Utes, the Paiutes and the Navajos worked hard but lived communally. They cared for each other and for the land.

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When the white settlers came, they created a very distinctive diversion of life on the frontier. Utah was not the land of the lone ranger. It was the land of peach‑cutting bees, of husking bees, of quilting bees and of barn-raisings and many other communal activities. It was a state in which many strong women and men invested in their families as much as in their farms. And in which women got the right to vote in 1870—the second territory to do so, after Wyoming, and before any of the states. In 1870, 50 years before the 19th Amendment.

Utah, as you see on the seal, as you know, is the beehive state. The beehive state for a work ethic that is as communal as it is strong.

So go forth. Hug your loved ones today. Thank them and hold them close to your hearts. Build on this great education and continue to learn and to grow. Strive and struggle and work really hard. But always, always make room for the precious indispensable and priceless work of care.

Thank you very much.

Read more 2016 commencement speeches:

Barack Obama: ‘Passion Is Vital, But You’ve Got to Have a Strategy’

Condoleezza Rice to Grads: ‘Don’t Let Anyone Else Define Your Passion’

Cory Booker to Grads: ‘Tell Your Truth’

Darren Walker to Grads: ‘Stand For Something’

Earl Lewis: ‘Never Confuse The Attainement of an Education with What It Means to Be Educated’

Eboo Patel to Wake Forest Grads: ‘The Only Shame Is in Stagnation’

Hoda Kotb: ‘You’re the Sum Total of the Five People You Spend the Most Time With’

J.K. Simmons to Grads: ‘Live in the Moment’

Jane Goodall to Grads: ‘Remember to Live to Your True Human Potential’

Jill Bolte Taylor: ‘We Have the Power to Choose Who We Want to Be’

Lin-Manuel Miranda to Grads: ‘Your Stories Are Essential’

Madeleine Albright: ‘Everyone Must Participate in Solving Shared Problems’

Michael Bloomberg: ‘An Open Mind Is the Most Valuable Asset You Can Possess’

Michelle Obama to Grads: ‘Excellence Is the Most Powerful Answer You Can Give’

Obama to Grads: Building Walls Is ‘A Betrayal of Who We Are’

Russell Wilson: ‘Go Make It Happen’

Sheryl Sandberg: ‘Finding Gratitude and Appreciation Is Key to Resilience’

Vivek Murthy: ‘Live a Connected Life’

William Foege to Grads: ‘Every Day We Edit Our Obituaries’