Members of the Class of 2019 were fortunate this year to have Jamie Rosenstein ’08 as our 25th alumni commencement speaker. Currently a People Analyst at Google, she has worked for the company for three years, since attending schools on both sides of the Atlantic. Jamie earned her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Psychology from Cornell University and spent a year abroad studying Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. In addition to her academic work in England, she was a marketing research assistant at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and had fun learning about pentathlons by practicing running, horseback riding, fencing, swimming, and shooting with the team.
Getting her feet wet at Google in the People Operations department, Jamie “onboarded” over 4,000 new employees as Noogler – “new Googler” – Program Manager during her first year. Proving herself there, she soon rotated to the Product Inclusion team to help teams and companies build more inclusive products. She has illustrated that even in New York and California her TLS roots continue to be strong; among the videos and events she has created, produced, and emceed is “Build your Business with YouTube”, featuring Beckett Fogg ’03 and other founders leveraging technology to build inclusive companies.
On her current People Analytics team, she programmed and administered Google’s company-wide employee survey to over 90,000 employees. She now focuses specifically on leader and manager research at Google.
We don’t have to Google her; we heard her in person and now you can read what she had to say to the 2019 graduates–Life Lessons for TLS “Nooglers”…Let’s welcome Jamie Rosenstein ’08.
JAMIE: See everyone – these folks here at TLS really know how to build you up. Like, there’s NO WAY I know more about Google than all of you combined. Because of Google, you can just Google Google and learn everything. Heck, you can Google me and probably learn more about me than I know about me. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know why I’m standing up here. You can just grab your smartphones and learn everything you need to know these days. But alas, these teachers of yours thought that real-life human interaction might be, well, an interesting interlude between all that screen time. And now you have to sit here while I tell you things and pretend like my life worked out exactly as I planned.
Look, it’s great to be back here at TLS, and it’s truly a privilege to speak before y’all this morning. So thank you for having me. In many ways, this is “where it all began” for me. I spent 11 years here – from Miss Brogan’s Montessori class all through eighth grade. This is where I got extra big pushes from my brother at big wheel races so I could taste those sweet, sweet victory M&Ms; this is where I discovered how much l like math AND chocolate by getting to learn fractions with Hershey’s chocolate bars in Ms. Hutton’s class. I ate my first mystery meat Crispito – those things were amazing by the way. I learned all about the Iditarod with Mrs. Sadler, turned every PE activity into a competition, survived the Southwest trip, and met many of my closest friends to this day – including my best friend, Ellie Fogg ’08, who will be my maid of honor in my wedding next month.
Anyway – I’ve been struggling recently with an unnatural number of robo-callers – all with that 859 area code. So, I was both shocked and thrilled when Lucy McKinstry called and asked me to speak for your graduation this year.
Then after I hung up, I was like, man, what on earth am I going to say?! I struggled to think of what I could share from my 11 years post-TLS graduation that would stick with you, inspire you, and guide you FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES. I reflected on the many commencement speeches I’ve sat through (way too many between both of my brothers and mine) and realized I couldn’t remember a single thing from any of them – not even the one from James Franco, well other than the fact it was James Franco, which is more than I remembered from the others.
So, I did what anyone does, when we’re clueless about something – I turned to Google. I typed “what are eighth graders into these days?” I think my first hit was from a website called www. Scary mommy dot com with an article titled “Five things your middle schooler is doing right now.” Definitely not helpful. And I’ll spare you and not read it. [Look out at audience] I see you, parents; put those phones away.
Then I realized, wait a minute. I work at Google. We track EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. So I got all of your names from Lucy and went into the secret Google area I have access to and looked at all of your search histories to see what you’ve been up to. So I’ll just go through my list to share what I learned, starting with … ONLY JOKING. That is not a thing and I DIDN’T DO THAT. Disclaimer: everything I say today represents my own views only and is not representative of Google in any way!
I did, however, search other things like “best commencement speeches” and came across some pretty phenomenal speeches – from Steve Jobs to Oprah, to JK Rowling. As I watched some of these “best commencement speeches,” I thought Wow, these people know what they’re talking about; they have some really great advice. Maybe I should just share some of the highlights from Steve, Oprah, and JK Rowling’s talks, and send you on your merry way. I thought this was a brilliant plan – so naturally, called my mom to get her thoughts. Luckily (or maybe not), she did NOT encourage me to recite pieces of these speeches for you. She did what moms do best – she told me how much you’d want to hear from ME because of MY very special perspective, so I decided I better stop my Google searching and do some thinking.
At Google, I spent a full year teaching our new hires, or new Googlers, or just Nooglers, as we like to say. So today, consider yourselves my Nooglers. Before I dive into my three main takeaways – can any of you tell me why Google is called “Google”?
So, life lesson number 1:
1) FOUNDATION, code name “Backrub.” Backrub was the project name Sergey Brin and Larry Page gave to Google before it was Google in 1996. This was because Google took a fundamentally different approach than other search engines at the time. Rather than counting how many times a search term appeared on a page and using that to rank results, Google analyzed relationships among websites and used “backlinks” – hence the name Backrub – to gauge the importance of a site. Basically, Larry and Sergey realized the value in understanding connections between sites, rather than looking at sites in isolation. This insight was foundational to Google’s success.
A strong foundation is one of the most important things you can have. Fortunately for all of you, you have been given this by your parents, family, and teachers here. TLS gives you the foundation to do just about anything you set your mind to. Beyond the education you get here, the friends you’ve formed over these years will be lifelong ones. I want you all to look around now and remember the teachers you’ve had who have shaped your experience, remember your classmates, and thank your parents. You are all incredibly fortunate. Attending a school like TLS is a privilege, one that few people have. I may not have realized it at the time and definitely did not thank my parents enough for the sacrifices they made to enroll not just one but three kids, but they clearly knew it would pay off eventually. Now they get to enjoy free lunches at Google when they visit me for Paroogler (Parent Googler) Day. Yes! That’s a thing. The point is you all have a strong foundation, a springboard from which you can launch yourself into ANYTHING. I’d encourage you to stay curious, be open to new experiences, and have confidence in your ability to do anything you want – no matter how weird – because of this strong foundation and support network you have.
2) FAILURE. I encourage you all – no, I CHALLENGE you – to fail. Failure creates learning opportunities and helps define you. I call this “Google Video.” Google first started Google Video in 2005 in an attempt to create its own video service. Interestingly, the tool initially provided searchable transcripts of recorded TV broadcasts. Later on, Google allowed video uploads and sharing, although a bit too late. The $1.65-billion YouTube acquisition in 2006, which, funny enough, was negotiated at a Denny’s in Palo Alto, meant Google admitted defeat on its initial video service. Because of this, Google has been able to double down on what made YouTube so popular – empowering anyone to become a content creator. And now, billions of our videos are watched on YouTube every single day.
So many things in my life didn’t work out as I had planned, but in hindsight, they all worked out, often better than I could have imagined. For example, I didn’t get into the college I wanted in sunny California, but instead ended up in the coldest, darkest place – Cornell, in Ithaca, New York. But I was open to it and curious to learn what goes on at the coldest campus in America. It ended up being an amazing time. I was even able to spend a year in a drearier place – called England – which also turned out to be a phenomenal experience, other than a bad case of pneumonia, which also was a big fail and another very valuable learning experience on the importance of lungs. I also failed to get a number of internships I thought I needed to land a good job, so I ended up working in research labs. That led me to Yahoo, which ultimately led me to a job at Google. I could go on and on about my failures, but I think you get the point – I failed to achieve many of the goals I set out for myself over and over. But each failure led to a new life and ultimately a personal growth experience. If you have ambitious goals for yourself or even not-so-ambitious goals, you’re not going to reach all of them, and that’s OK. Now is the time to try new things, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. While you can do this at any point in life, transition periods are a particularly great opportunity to be open to new experiences – whether it’s a big step like going to a school in a state or even a country where you know zero people, or a smaller decision – like joining a club, attending a talk, reaching out to your favorite author, movie producer, entrepreneur, or sports figure, or just striking up a conversation with the person next to you on the airplane. Who knows, maybe you’ll find you’re sitting next to Beyonce’s favorite DJ, and have him DJ your wedding – yes, true story from my last flight to Kentucky! The point is – things might not work out as planned. You may not get into the college you want or get the job you want, but everything works out in the long run. I’d encourage you always to make the most of each situation, and look at failures as learning opportunities.
If you already don’t remember anything I’ve said, at least you can always turn to Google to get your questions answered and guide you throughout life. I will now take credit every time you use Google, which means my initial lofty goal of sticking with you and inspiring you for the rest of your lives might just be met! Which also means this commencement speech is way more memorable than James Franco’s! Maybe even more memorable than Steve, Oprah, or JK Rowlings?! You’ll have to let me know in a few years.
Oh yeah – and Number 3 – for all you nerds out there like me who have been counting and thought, “Hey, she only gave two takeaways, but she promised us three … wrong!” I didn’t forget. Number 3, which is ARGUABLY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT – I call it – INCÓGNITO MODE. Social media is great. Google is great. Instagram is great. Technology is great. But you need to make sure YOU ARE USING THEM AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. I like to make sure I spend time every day and take longer periods on weekends to go “off the grid” and focus on the world around me, rather than a screen. As simple as reading a book in a hammock, enjoying nature, or even just leaving my phone at home for the evening to be fully present and enjoy spending time with friends.
Congratulations to the Class of 2019! I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you do!