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Woo delivers latest Last Lecture installment

Marisa Iati | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dean Carolyn Woo’s contribution to the Last Lecture Series — which asks faculty members to prepare a lecture as if it were their last — was especially timely Thursday night, as Woo enters the final months of her fourteen year career at the helm of the Mendoza College of Business. Woo will leave at the end of the Fall Semester to take over as CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

As Woo faces major change and uncertainty in her own life, she advised audience members to face adversity with faith, not to fear hardship or responsibility and not to underestimate the value of education.

“I choose to say that because I think, right now, the economic environment worries everyone,” Woo said. “When I was growing up, I was in a pretty comfortable family, except that my father had a few issues. So even when I was younger, I had a sense of not having security. I also decided that my way of responding to that was to go to school.”

Challenges followed Woo to Purdue University, where she began her undergraduate education with only enough money for one year’s expenses. Woo said she was fortunate to receive a scholarship, which was both a blessing and a reminder to appreciate her education.

“I was able to be given a scholarship that covered the rest of my years,” Woo said. “As a result, I never took any opportunities for granted. When you’re in the middle of [adversity], it’s very difficult, but work your way into that adversity and work your way out of the adversity and don’t be afraid of responsibility. I think adversity really shapes us and it’s a gift in its own ways.”

Always maintain faith, Woo said.

“You may feel like you’re all alone, but you really are not,” she said. “I think God is always with us. At Purdue, I started going to daily Mass, and it was an incredible sense of peace and comfort. Out of whatever [the challenge] is, something comes through.”

While the College of Business has risen to the top of BusinessWeek’s undergraduate business school rankings, Woo would not take full credit for the college’s success.

“A number one ranking has some randomness in it,” she said. “You can’t just earn a number one ranking. There is an element of the [Holy] Spirit with us.”

Relationships with others are gifts, Woo said. If someone stands up for those in need, others will support that person in turn.

“I think it is really important that you do not set up barriers where you look at other people by their titles or by their achievements,” Woo said. “Those things are really irrelevant. Never look down on people.”

Woo recounted the advice of a speaker at her graduation from Purdue’s MBA program.

“Charisma is the ability to take people as you find them, to like people for what they are and to not despise them for what they are not,” she said. “In other words, it is a person who has the capacity for other people. And if you have the capacity for other people, you will draw people to you.”

Set high standards and perform to your potential, Woo added.

“It’s about the respect you give for the responsibility someone has put in your hands,” she said. “It’s about your way of honoring the people that are on the receiving end of that work. Along with that, it is very important to not let people down. And the thing is, if you don’t work at [a high] level, you have no right to expect other people to work at that level for you.”

Even in the face of difficulty, find the good and remember to laugh, Woo said.

“I think laughing is the best way to acknowledge that whatever difficulties we are facing, that indeed, there is a better day, that we are not alone struggling in this, that there is joy,” Woo said. “If we believe in God, we know that there is hope. If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would be sufficient.”