Brad D. Smith Delivers Special Commencement Speech for UVA Wise

The graduating class of 2020 experienced a variety of challenges as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. From stay-at-home orders and having classes interrupted, to cancelled spring break plans and virtual graduation, this group of students had to overcome various hurdles as they graduated and pursued future endeavors. To honor them, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise held an in-person commencement ceremony on May 9, 2021, at Carl Smith Stadium. Brad D. Smith was a part of this special ceremony, where he delivered the commencement address via video to the graduating class.

After leaving the Appalachian region nearly three decades ago, Brad was honored to connect with students of the region and deliver the address to the UVA Wise graduating class of 2020. In his address, he said that this group of students is one of the most prepared classes to enter the workforce. The pandemic pushed them to gain three critical skills for success: adaptability, resilience and purpose.

Brad spoke about how this class has been forced to adapt to a new normal throughout the pandemic. It pushed them to live through a real-life application of design thinking. Design thinking, an iterative process based in planning for change and quickly pivoting, is a guiding principle and secret to success for many Silicon Valley companies.

This class also has a lot of grit—a combination of passion and perseverance in pursuit of a goal. Brad quoted Winston Churchill in his address when he said the definition of success “consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Throughout the last year, the class of 2020 exemplified resilience and grit as they pushed through difficult circumstances to graduate from college and search for their next opportunity.

Brad closed his address by encouraging the class of 2020 to step out, put their dent on the world and find their life’s purpose. To quote Mark Twain, Brad said, “the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why.”

For Brad, a driving purpose has been giving back to the communities where he grew up. During his time at Intuit, Brad brought a Prosperity Hub to Wise, Virginia, where the company was able to tap into the talent of the area, rather than focusing solely on tech hubs like Boston, Seattle or the Silicon Valley. Through this Prosperity Hub in Wise, Intuit proved that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by economic and technological change are a source of incredible talent for companies. As a result of the success Intuit experienced in Wise, the company has since launched seven Prosperity Hubs following the same blueprint.