Dean Stavridis presented the Dean’s Medal to Arianna Huffington at The Fletcher School’s Class Day Ceremony this past Saturday, May 21, 2016. The co-founder, editor-in-chief and co-president of the Huffington Post Media Group is in good company as previous recipients of the extraordinary achievement award include current Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin.
Huffington is the author of 15 published books, and her most recent work, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, focuses on the repercussions of the sleep deprivation crisis in areas such as health and job performance. The Dean praised her sincerity and life balance, describing her as “a global citizen, an extraordinary human being, and a good friend to me and many others” before giving her the podium.
The opening remarks of Huffington’s speech described the “world of huge challenges and incredible possibilities” that Fletcher graduates will be entering into once they leave campus. She stressed an urgency for graduates now more than ever to rise up with resilience and wisdom in order to be “diplomatic first responders” in global crises.
“Bottom line, Fletcher graduates: the world needs you. In fact, the world is putting out the bat signal and counting on you to answer that call. The best part is you don’t have to choose an alter ego or wear a funny suit,” she quipped.
Despite interludes of humor, Huffington focused on the building blocks of leadership, such as wisdom—a quality she feels is missing in many of today’s leaders, despite being well educated. “That wisdom is so needed and is so much harder to achieve because of the constant distractions and presence of our devices that make it so much harder to reconnect with ourselves,” she said.
In addition, she advised having an awareness of the political burnout that many of our leaders experience today. Huffington referenced the airline industry to highlight her point in a universal way: “Secure your own oxygen first before helping others.” While her answer appears simple, it is nonetheless very difficult to achieve in practice, especially when we live in a culture that is “engineered” to encourage us to neglect our personal responsibilities.
In terms of who to emulate, Huffington cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who both embraced a disciplined approach to sleep. She recalled FDR’s ten-day vacation announcement in 1940 when he sailed around the Caribbean on a navy ship in order to collect himself before making a decision about entering WWII; “the result of Roosevelt’s refueling was a political masterpiece.” To further emphasize her point, Huffington described Winston Churchill’s infamous power naps in his war room bunker: “If these habits can win the Second World War, it may be time to practice them again!”
When individuals begin to care for themselves properly, they can then interact and participate in the essential search for truth within the world. Again looking to history, Huffington referenced the legendary career of Edward R. Murrow, who was never afraid to ask the tough questions. “When we access our courage and wisdom, and put them at the service of leadership, we will have the judgment and fortitude to be true to ourselves and to speak truth to power when it most matters,” she said.
Huffington spent the final minutes of her speech with a call to action for all graduates to make change on the global stage, to play a role in a lifestyle shift away from exhaustion, and to search for the truth. Essentially, she hopes students will be the cog that disrupts the constantly accelerating wheel in which we live our disconnected lives thanks to technology. “Instead of wearing your exhaustion as a badge of honor and a sign of how important and how much in demand you are, you can recognize that it’s actually a sign of an inability to organize, ruthlessly prioritize, and impose order on chaos: all essential building blocks of leadership,” she said.
The crowd responded with a standing ovation for Arianna Huffington, who was later seen mingling with students, posing for photographs with families, and passing out her card, thus every bit as sincere as Dean Stavridis described in his opening remarks.