Esteemed alumnus, Amazon Consumer CEO Clark urges Auburn graduates to be bold and courageous in inspiring spring commencement address
Body of the article
Amazon Consumer CEO and Auburn University alumnus Dave Clark captivated more than 4,600 graduates and their families with an impassioned keynote at Jordan-Hare Stadium Friday night.
Clark, a 1996 music education graduate and managing director of Amazon at Worldwide Consumer, urged graduates to stand out, be bold and strive for excellence as they close a chapter in their lives and embark on their professional career.
“You are forever a member of the Auburn family,” Clark said. “We have your back, so get out there, be bold, be brave, embrace your communities and build great things so my boys can come listen to you when they graduate from this remarkable place. You have everything you need to conquer the world and win. Always conquer, never give in!
The proud alumnus shared a moving story about coming to the Plains and what it meant to him to become an Auburn Tiger.
“Two of my best friends from high school were freshmen here, and Auburn wasn’t on my list, but I had college visiting days, so I decided to come see my friends.” , said Clark. “Once I figured out where Auburn was, I was on my way. I crested that hill on Wire Road, and the campus came into view just as that misty burnt orange sunset lit up this incredible cathedral in which we are all tonight.
“I’ll never forget that moment. I actually pulled over on the side of the road, got out of my car, and just stared for a good five minutes. My mom had passed away the year before, and for some reason I felt like she was in. Something about Auburn felt like home.
Clark talked about his time playing for the Auburn University Marching Band, performing with the AU Singers and working as an equipment manager for the music department. He also mentioned that one of the keys to success is found in Auburn’s credo.
“It’s like the Auburn credo says: it comes down to a commitment to ‘work, work hard’, deliver on promises and serve others,” Clark said. “It really is the main ingredient in the secret sauce, and I learned that at Auburn.”
He went on to advise graduates to surround themselves with people they love, who are “brilliant” and not be afraid to challenge themselves.
“It was that instinct that brought me to Auburn,” he said. “That instinct is what led me to teach music to 250 seventh graders, and that instinct is what led me to join a small, growing online bookstore called Amazon.com in 1999. also led to him marrying my wife, Leigh Anne, who is smarter than me and challenges me to be better every day – which coincidentally is my biggest life lesson so far.
“Make sure your life partner is someone who challenges you and will always tell you the truth no matter how much it hurts. They will make you better like no one else will.
Clark also shared humorous personal accounts of his time on the Plains, including hoarding random items that could now be found in an Amazon warehouse.
“Shout out to these special grads here who, like me, loved Auburn so much we stayed a fifth year,” Clark said. “Although I didn’t like 8 a.m. classes, I loved Momma G’s steamed nachos, and I was a world-class collector of gameday t-shirts and Auburn merchandise. Now that I think about it, that was probably a key student skill that I excelled at – acquiring large amounts of weird items – which perhaps explains why I’m now the CEO of the global company of Amazon consumption.
“Now I help deliver personalized shirts and nachos to hundreds of millions of people every hour of the day and night.”
Speaking of Amazon, Clark talked about what an exciting journey her time there doing great things with amazing people has been.
“I joined a community of like-minded builders, smart, driven people who saw the world as an endless stream of possibilities,” Clark said. “The environment at Amazon has challenged me to be better and go further than I ever thought possible. It’s invigorating to be around people like that.
“Hard problems are so much easier and so much more fun when you associate with great people. Highly recommend.”
Clark remarked that her career has been “non-linear” and urged graduates to be bold, take risks and not be afraid to fail.
“If there’s one thing I wish I’d known when I was you, it’s that almost everything you do in your twenties is reversible,” Clark said. “So please take my word for it, go out there and make some mistakes. I mean, don’t worry your family too much, but please go take that trip around the world, take that job you might be worried about failing, and even start your own business.
“Trust me, you’ll live to tell the tale, and you might even see your own very non-linear results.”
He praised the perseverance of graduates during the COVID-19 pandemic and reveled in how Auburn has evolved in recent years.
“This class has seen Auburn through tougher times than I have,” he said. “But I encourage you to see this through the prism of opportunity versus doubt. After all, you have Bruce Pearl and great teams in basketball, gymnastics, horseback riding, baseball. I want say, you have really made this school a comprehensive school.
“So many good things are created by heat and pressure and times like the ones we are living through today breed innovation and opportunity for those with the courage and daring to take on new challenges. These are traits that I know are embedded in Auburn graduates.
Friday night’s speech also included the formal presentation of more than 4,600 degrees by Auburn Board Member Clark Sahlie, as well as group recognition of graduating undergraduates with honors and an official welcome to the Auburn Alumni Association. It was also the last departure for Auburn president Jay Gogue, who will retire and hand over the reins to Christopher B. Roberts on May 16.
“This is a great day in the life of Auburn University,” said Gogue, who received a standing ovation from the crowd after being recognized for his service by acting vice provost Vini Nathan. “Today you join a very special group of Auburn graduates. Since our beginnings in 1856, we have awarded 358,000 degrees, and today we will award 4,625 more, including professional degrees, doctorates, master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Very simply, congratulations and War Eagle!
In addition, nine members of the College of Education’s EAGLES program for students with developmental disabilities participated in the ceremonies. Bradley Basden, Grace Davis, Andrew Day, Josh Greiner, Rosa Juan, Anna Moates, D’Vonte Morris, Sadie Weldon and Luke York donned caps and robes with their Auburn peers as they embarked on new journeys.
Friday night’s program was followed by individual college ceremonies at Neville Arena on Saturday, which ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pharmacy and College of Veterinary Medicine at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.
Among these graduates, 748 were masters, 110 doctorates and 11 specialization degrees. The university has awarded 3,497 bachelor’s degrees, with 119 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees and 140 Doctor of Pharmacy degrees in progress as of Monday.
More information about Auburn’s celebrations can be found on the Beginning’s website.