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SUU graduates told to ask difference-making questions

By Davison Cheney

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, May 6 2011 11:30 p.m. MDT

CEDAR CITY — More than 1,700 graduates from six different colleges at Southern Utah University were encouraged to be "in tune to the spirit in order to ask the questions that will make differences" by Clayton M. Christensen, this year's distinguished University Commencement Ceremony speaker.

Christensen spoke to an audience of graduates and guests Friday afternoon in the Centrum Arena on the campus of Southern Utah University. He is widely known for the lasting impact his ideas have made in global business, and is sought after as a speaker, advisor and board member thanks in large measure to his broader approach to what he calls the "Well-Planned Life."

For his unique perspective and lasting impact as a leading world thinker on innovation, Christensen was one of three to receive an honorary doctorate degree in business from the university which was presented to him by SUU President Michael T. Benson.

A Utah native, Christensen holds a B.A. with highest honors in economics from Brigham Young University (1975). While enrolled at BYU, he earned rank as a Rhoads scholar to study at Oxford University (1977). He received a Master of Business Administration degree with High Distinction from the Harvard Business School in 1979, graduating as a George F. Baker Scholar.

After several years working for a prestigious management firm, he returned to Harvard when he was awarded his Doctor of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1992 and became a professor there.

In a span of less than three years, his ideal was put to the test. He survived a heart attack, one that his doctors referred to as "the widow maker", overcame cancer and recovered from a stroke that affected his ability to speak clearly.

As the keynote speaker, Christensen promised the graduates that their "contribution would be extraordinary if they put others first." He said, "God is not a statistician, nor is he an accountant. And his question to us at the end of our life will not be about our own positions. He will say 'I put you in that position, now let's discuss the individual people you were able to influence.'"

Christensen's address widened to include the current U.S. approach to foreign policy. He made an account of a 1982 lunch meeting he had as a White House fellow with former President Richard M. Nixon, where he asked him why he had established a relationship with the enemy (China). Christensen summed up his interpretation of Nixon's answer by saying that political isolation had the effect of strengthening the enemy and that we should be "transforming the enemy into friends without firing a shot."

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