Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was the keynote speaker this afternoon at Harvard Business School's Class Day, which precedes commencement. Days after a tumultuous May 18 initial public offering, the social network has come under a barrage of questions and criticisms which could have made the event, well, awkward.
So what happened?
Not a lot. It was a hot and sticky 90 minutes under a blue, cloud-splattered sky on Baker Lawn on the HBS campus. The day's event was overshadowed by the heartbreaking death of second-year student Nathan Bihlmaier, 31, known as "Nate." Bihlmaier disappeared Sunday night in Portland, Maine, after a night celebrating with friends. His body was recovered Tuesday in Portland harbor. He left behind a pregnant wife. "Some things in life are just hard," said graduate Luke Marklin, Section F, in his welcoming remarks.
Sandberg, who wore a dress bluer even than the sky, began her remarks: "Today was supposed to be a day of unbridled celebration, and I know that's no longer true." Then she cut to her prepared remarks, which centered on career advice ("When you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat, just take it") as well as her struggles as a woman in the workplace. For example, she cited the fact that women today occupy only about 15% of C-level positions in corporate America, and the number's been stuck there for more than a decade.
Sandberg made no reference to Facebook's (FB) struggles aside for one slightly humorous oblique mention at the end: "As you and your classmates spread out across the globe and walk across this stage tomorrow, I wish for you four things: First, that you keep in touch, via Facebook. This is critical to your future success. And we're public now. So can you click on an ad or two while you're there?"