“Go Fail!”— Manas’ Commencement Speech
Challenged with the task of characterizing Manas Kulkarni (Cohort 18), several descriptors come to mind. Words like “orator,” “leader,” and “swag” make the top of the list. However, you probably would not think to include “failure.” That’s why it was particularly shocking to hear Manas speak about failure, in fact encourage it, as the undergraduate commencement speaker for the Smith School this May.
Adorned in cap and gown, Manas challenged the current paradigm of failure as a roadblock to success. He reasoned “that failure doesn’t stifle success” rather “it catalyzes learning.” And in the process, provoked more than a few laughs as well. Reviews of the speech were overwhelmingly positive.
Mercedes Valero (Cohort 19) compared Manas’ oration to a TED Talk. Hayley Brown (Cohort 18) commented,
“After three years of being wowed by Manas’ eloquent speeches in class, it was only fitting to have him represent the Smith Class of 2013 on stage at graduation! Manas spoke to our fears and failures, encouraging us to embrace them and learn from our mistakes, just as we have experienced first hand in QUEST!”
Luckily, I lived with Manas in the QUESTLab this past semester, so QUESTPress had exclusive rights to an interview. I spoke with him about his inspiration for the speech, plans for the future, and message to current QUEST students. Our conversation follows…
Why did you want to deliver the Smith School commencement speech?
I have always had a love for public speaking and the art of communicating, so the speech was a great opportunity for me to do something I enjoyed. More importantly, the Smith School has played a large hand in what I would call my own success, so it was an absolute privilege to be able to represent Smith.
How did you get selected to write the speech?
The Smith School invites high-performing graduating seniors to apply for the opportunity based on GPA, after which point I submitted my resume and a sample speech. My application was selected as one of the top 5 finalists, and after I auditioned my speech for a panel of deans and faculty, I was fortunate enough to be selected!
What was your inspiration to talk about failure?
There wasn’t one particular event that motivated me to speak of failure, but rather a collective experience. Too often, I’ve avoided certain decisions due to my fear of failure. Luckily, I had mentors that showed me how failure was a prerequisite of success rather than its opposite, and I wanted to share that message with my peers.
What’s the next step for Manas?
As part of the Teach for America Corps, I will be teaching mathematics to inner-city students in San Francisco next year.
What message would you like to leave QUEST students?
QUEST revolves around the creativity and innovative spirit of its students. As such, I’ve learned in QUEST that only so much can be accomplished by planning. If you have the passion and ability to solve a problem, make sure to step on the gas pedal and don’t let go. Failure is only an opportunity to grow!