Mona K. Sutphen '89: Citation and Speech


Mona K. Sutphen—public sector official, private sector executive, author, framer of policy, agent of change—what a journey you have been on. Your path has taken you from your high school in Milwaukee, where you were one of three students to go to college out of state, to this campus, where you were a research assistant to Professor Anthony Lake, who became President Clinton’s first National Security Advisor, to foreign service posts in Bangkok and Sarajevo, to the London School of Economics, to a post with Bill Richardson, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and then to your first position in the White House, the Clinton White House, as a special assistant to then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in what you memorably describe as “the frenetic guts of the American foreign policy machine.” During the Bush years, you decamped for the private sector, working as a managing director at Stonebridge International, a consulting firm advising multinationals on business opportunities and challenges around the world. You were an early member of Obama’s foreign policy advisory team, just as your mentor Tony Lake had been of Clinton’s. After Obama’s election, you served on his transition team, and were then quickly named to one of his top slots, as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, serving steps away from the Oval Office and bringing to the Obama White House a powerful blend of foreign and domestic policy experience and wisdom. In 2011, you moved on to the global financial services firm UBS, where you are now a managing director covering geopolitical risk and macro-policy trends.

In the run-up to the Obama presidency you somehow found time to coauthor a book called The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive While Other Powers Rise. This significant book bears your distinctive mark of linking foreign and domestic policy, arguing that the growth of such relatively new international powers as India and China poses less of a threat to the United States’ place in the world than the United States’ own foreign policy decisions and domestic policy challenges. You argue, with clarity and common sense, that national security begins at home, with education, health care, sound infrastructure, and the conviction that our global competitors can be our partners.

For your inclusive and refreshingly optimistic global outlook, forged in classrooms just yards from this spot, tested and honed in Asia and Europe, and brought to bear in the White House on some of this nation’s and the world’s most intractable challenges, Mount Holyoke is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.


Good [morning/afternoon]! It's so great to see so many smiling faces: graduates, because you're totally done! And parents, because there are no more checks to write! But graduates, if you're like me on my own graduation day, I felt a mix of sadness, excitement—and fear. Fear that I might not find a job that would pay the rent—and fear that I might not find career success and happiness along the way. So here are three simple career rules that I've learned along the way and I hope you'll take to heart as you walk out of these gates:

  1. Play to your strengths. Find what you love and what you're good at. Most of the time, these are one and the same.
  2. Focus on gaining experience, not a title. Choose the role you find most interesting, working for someone you admire most. You can't really go wrong.
  3. Don't be a jerk. There are jerks everywhere, just like mosquitos in summer. But life is short and the world is small, so why waste time tearing other people down?

Looking out at all of you, I’m truly confident you’ll be successful in your future endeavors. Now, I’d like to think it’s because you'll listen to my three rules. But the real reason is because of what Mount Holyoke has given you. You may not know it yet, but this special place has given you the knowledge, skills, and—confidence—to take risks and forge your own path in life. Now you just need to walk out that gate and start down the road. Congratulations, Class of 2013!

 (Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)