Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz taught the graduates of Arizona State University one more thing before they accepted their degrees on Monday evening. "Ubuntu," a South African word, means "I am because of you," he explained during his commencement speech.
Schultz told the graduates that regardless of where they came from, they are destined to change the world. "ASU is because of you, you are because of ASU," Schultz said at the close of his speech. "We are because of each other. Ubuntu." He first learned the word last year, when he opened two Starbucks stores in Johannesburg, South Africa. During that time, Schultz met with 50 young employees who used it to describe their excitement about starting new jobs at Starbucks.
Schultz detailed his experiences growing up poor in public housing in Brooklyn, explaining the importance of his mother's commitment to the "American dream." It was a constant theme throughout his childhood, despite his parents' struggle to afford the $96 rent for their two bedroom apartment. "Your station in life does not define you and the promise of America that is for all of us," he said.
Schultz, who built Starbucks into a global public company, stepped down from his role as CEO in April this year but will remain as executive chairman of the company. During his three decades as CEO of Starbucks, Schultz launched several initiatives aimed at bettering the lives of employees. One of the most prominent was the College Achievement Plan, which began in 2015 and gives part- and full-time employees full tuition coverage to ASU for every year of their undergraduate studies. "It is my firm belief that success in business and in life is best when it's shared."
"Not every business decision is an economic one and success is not an entitlement, it has to be earned and earned everyday through humility" Schultz says. "Only in America can a poor kid from public housing have the privilege and honor to be the commencement speaker at the largest and most innovative university in the country."
Schultz closed out his speech telling the graduates that the future is up to them, not the people in power now. He added that they will develop clean energy, make racism exist only in history books and "preserve and enhance the promise of America."