Lulu Chow Wang '66 addressed the Class of 2016 at Wellesley’s 138th Commencement Exercises
Thank you President Bottomly, Provost Shennan, esteemed trustees, faculty and staff, and the phenomenal Class of 2016 and also your proud, and loving families and friends.
It is special honor to be invited to be your Commencement speaker, because, just next week, I return for my 50th Reunion! And from here on we will reunion together! Since leaving Wellesley, I have had the pleasure of speaking to a number of audiences, but today, to speak to you, my Wellesley sisters, is really meaningful to me. Even my wonderful husband, who is here today, and usually a bit cynical when he hears that I am going to give a talk – to him, any speech over five minutes is way too long – he took note. When I broke the news of being your commencement speaker, he surprised me. He looked up from his crossword puzzle, and my resident cynic said “now that is a big deal.” He knew that it is a big deal because he knows that I, as you all, really love this place.
So, my dear Class of 2016, you have been an impressive class from the day you set foot on campus. You used your intelligence and your energy to advance the hallmark actions on Wellesley on gender, pluralism and pay equity. During a time of rapidly changing and often uncertain standards, you weighed in and you made a big difference.
There is no question; we live in a time of unexpected and often confusing change. It has often been so disruptive, that some just choose to sit it out. But we know Wellesley women never sit anything out, and so we have to meet this challenge, and here at Wellesley, we are being prepared to lead in this time of change. Our liberal arts education is more relevant than ever. We are challenged to think critically, to manage seismic as well as nano trends with the intellectual nimbleness essential to succeed in today’s changing world. Central to this intellectual and social agility are two key attributes: first, an open mind; second, resilience.
An open mind: an open mind allows us to explore all the options before us – not just the ones that are comfortable and familiar. It allows us to imagine ourselves in lives that truly excite us, that demand more from us than we had ever imagined. At Wellesley, we are not only encouraged to discover these options, but challenged to pursue them, and it was Wellesley which gave me the courage to do just that. Now I know that your class has loved to share stories with each other, and so today I would like to share my story with you.
When I first arrived at Wellesley in the fall of ‘62, a long time ago, my aspirations were quite traditional. I thought that I was already daring in choosing to major in English literature. It was not the science or practical major that my family, first generation immigrants from China, might have preferred. But they were very permissive of me. I assumed I would earn a masters and work a few years before marrying and starting a family. This was pretty standard for women in the 50’s and early 60’s. However, life and love upset these plans. I left Wellesley after my junior year to be with my husband Tony, who had just graduated from Yale and was heading for Cornell Law School. So, love survived the frigid winters of Ithaca – very cold up there – but despite the joys of motherhood and home crafts that would have impressed even Martha Stewart, I felt adrift. Something was really missing. Wellesley had inspired ambitions that I felt helpless to pursue at that time.
When Tony finished his degree and had a job offer in New York City, he understood my restlessness and, good husband as he was, he said “ok, it’s your turn now to finish your education and do whatever it takes you make you happy.” I did just that, completing my Wellesley degree at Barnard. I received my Wellesley degree in 1969, but with a young family in New York City, I did not make it up for my commencement. So, you see, I especially appreciate this opportunity to share your commencement with you!
Now, with my Wellesley degree under my belt, I re-assessed my options, as the world had changed in just three years. It was the early days of women’s liberation and the choices for women were exploding. So I looked around. I was intrigued by my husband’s work as a securities lawyer. It seemed challenging and also far too much of a male enclave. It needed some women in there. So I looked into law school, but then on further examination, I thought I might really prefer the securities, rather than the law side of what he did. Since I had no experience then in securities, I applied to a securities firm for a financial editor position, which Kim mentioned. It required an MBA, which I did not have at that time, but I went into the interview with a secret weapon. It was a Wellesley paper I had written at my sophomore year, and I thought I could bring it along as evidence that I could really write and edit. I was also emboldened when I learned most of the analysts were primarily Harvard Business School graduates. I felt confident that my Wellesley BA would be certainly equal to their Harvard MBA’s! (My apologies to the HBS’ers out there.) So I got the job on a three-month trial basis. I did well, and they offered me a permanent position as an editor. Of course by then--Wellesley women are always thinking--it was clear to me that the upward path in a securities firm was on the investment, not the editorial side. I understood I was taking a risk, but I took the chance and I asked them to make me an analyst. I knew that with some hard work, I was confident I could develop stock recommendations, which till then I had just been editing for other people. I was lucky. The firm was growing fast, they needed analysts, so they gave me a shot. Although it could have been a total disaster, I never regretted that leap. The more I learned about investing, the more I loved it, and I knew this was the intellectual challenge that I had been missing.
So, this was the humble beginning of a lifelong love affair with investing--a path I would never have taken if I had not had the confidence and open mind that Wellesley encouraged in me. As I advanced to larger firms and more senior positions, I earned an Executive MBA at Columbia. Now, my career was not one without forks in the road. When I was mid-career senior securities analyst, I was approached by the CEO of a large Fortune 100 company who offered me an attractive operating position in his firm. I was very flattered, I considered the offer, as in the short term it would have been a nice increase in pay and title. But, on reflection, for me I realized it would have been far less stimulating, I would have missed the daily intellectual challenge of looking for those great companies and testing myself against other investors. It was also a time when I, as an emerging leader in the investment management field, could now begin to help other women, as women were just beginning to enter the still very male-dominated industry. For each of us, we need to listen to our own inner voices, to know what we really want, not what seems most impressive at the time, whether to others or even to ourselves.
So, by staying with the investment management field, I was able to help forge the way for women in a profession that is an absolute natural for all us, especially if we have had the benefits of a robust liberal arts education. Wellesley has trained us to view the world multidimensionally, to grasp transformative trends, and then to have the confidence to act on them. For me, this was the perfect fit with investing. And I love my work and love it as excitingly now as when I started 40 years ago.
Having helped lead two major investment firms, I ultimately formed my own firm – Tupelo Capital Management. The name came from Tupelo Point on our own Lake Waban, populated by Tupelo trees, known for their strength and resilience. Tupelo trees originated in China – you may not have known that – as did my family. And Tupelo trees, like my family, have lent strength and resilience to my life. I have four Wellesley women in my family here today – Mei Mei Tuan ’88, Nancy Wong ’97, and Carina Chen ‘17. Now that’s three. The fourth is my beloved mom, whom we lost last year. You see her name every day on the dining room in the campus center. Bae Pao Lu Chow did not have the opportunity to attend Wellesley, but she and my father sacrificed so I could--and she was a Wellesley woman in every sense of the word. Today, I and her Wellesley granddaughters and great granddaughter know that she is very much here with us.
Resilience. My mother had resilience in abundance. She did not waste much time equivocating or on regrets if things didn’t turn out. Well before Nike, she always said, “Just do it.” She, as Wellesley later did, also prepared me to know that life would not always be as expected, or even fair. But we had to rise to the challenges. And in her favorite saying, she said, “Do your best and leave the rest.”
Now, there were challenges. Many years ago, when I first began to serve on not-for-profit boards, I was invited to be a trustee at a prestigious institution and its renowned investment committee. It was populated by the great minds of Wall Street. I was the first woman ever to serve on this investment committee, but I felt qualified. As Kim mentioned, I had already chaired the Investment Committee at Wellesley, as well as that of the largest community trust in the country, and in both cases I was the first woman on the investment committee. Now the challenge in this situation was that the longstanding and respected chair of the committee was a retired CEO and a septuagenarian who had never had a woman on his committee and frankly had not worked much with women in the senior ranks. It was really nothing personal, but he just didn't know what to do with me. He did not ask me to weigh in on the investment discussions as he did of the other men. I was truly invisible to him. I thought this all very foolish and unfair, but rather than protest or worse yet, question my own ability, I just politely offered my views in each discussion. I did not wait for him to call on me; I contributed what I thought was important in each investment meeting. When the chair finally retired some years later, I was greatly touched when he turned to me and in very quiet respectful tones, he said that “Lulu, over these years you have become one of the most important voices to me on this committee.” My mother was right – “do your best” - and in doing so, I not only was able to be a fully contributing member of this important committee, but I was also able to open the doors for women on other important board committees. The lesson learned here is: save your energy for the real battles. As the Trojans knew, battles are far more easily won from inside the gates than from outside.
Resilience. Resilience is also being able to balance a whole lot of imbalances. Sounds ironic, but it’s true. One of my Wellesley nieces is Mei Mei Tuan '88, who is actually written up in the current issue of our alumnae magazine; Mei Mei is a very successful entrepreneur (her own company) is a fabulous mother of two gifted children and a pillar of her community and local Wellesley group. She seems to have arrived at this all so effortlessly, achieving an enviable balance between her work and personal life. But, she is the first to say that it has not been easy. The balance that we all see is just the result of many imbalances in life that she has had to tune and retune--and which you will all be doing as you proceed. Her resilience: to know when to lean in, when to lean out, and when faced with disappointment, when to press on, and when to walk away. These have been honed into her during her life as a Wellesley woman. During a particularly stressful time in her work and family, I said, “Mei Mei, how are you doing.” She gritted her teeth, smiled, and said, “It will work out; I’m a Wellesley woman.” I also see her Wellesley spirit in my other Wellesley nieces. After a long successful career in teaching, Nancy just went back to school to earn her doctorate degree and will be starting up and leading a charter school for low income students. Carina, who graduates next year, just completed her third successful year at Wellesley, juggling a very heavy schedule of competitive tennis, classes and volunteer in mental health. Now when all of us need a break, we all indulge in a favorite Wellesley past time: we sit down and have some s'mores. I think you may know, but Mei Mei is our alum who underwrites the s'mores nights at the Lulu. We hope you enjoy them!
Finally, as Wellesley women, we can’t end any story without talking about making a difference. From my perspective, we should all strive to succeed in whatever we do, but success is so much better if shared with others – not at the end of our lives in our wills, but throughout our lives. All of us can do good by doing well. Doing good, by doing well: It can be in any field, whether nonprofit or for profit. We can give back in material ways, but just as importantly, we can share our achievements by opening doors for other women, by setting leadership examples of excellence, but achieving it with openness, fairness and respect for others. In this way, our success will be passed on to the generations after us, to other generations of Wellesley women and all women, all who will make a difference.
So congratulations, to my very dear Class of 2016, I look forward to seeing you at your red--and my purple--reunions and to celebrating our shared successes! Thank you.