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Tarriff to Penn State Smeal graduates: Find your passion early

May 15, 2018

Tarriff at commencement
Scott Tarriff, the founder, president and CEO of Eagle Pharmaceuticals, explored four themes — passion, people, purpose, and failure — as he addressed Smeal's spring 2018 undergraduate commencement ceremony.
Scott Tarriff, the founder, president and CEO of Eagle Pharmaceuticals, delivered the 2018 Penn State Smeal College of Business undergraduate commencement address on May 6 in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Tarriff is a 1981 Smeal marketing graduate. Prior to founding Eagle, Tarriff held several key executive-level positions at publicly traded companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Par Pharmaceutical. He quickly ascended through the ranks at Bristol-Myers Squibb prior to joining Par. While at Par, he served as president and CEO from 2003 to 2006 and served on the board of directors from 2002 to 2006. He currently sits on several other boards of directors. 

Smeal conferred degrees to more than 1,700 students in three different spring ceremonies. The college graduated 1,585 undergraduate students, 77 students from the Integrated Master of Accounting (MAcc) Program, two Ph.D. students, 30 Master of Management and Organizational Leadership students, and 56 MBA students. 

Tarriff started his address by sharing with the audience his path from a lower-middle class family in New Jersey through his time at Penn State and into his professional life. 

“Nothing has really changed in this great country since then,” he said. “Your opportunities are still limitless, but no one is going to simply hand you success.” 

The main thrust of his address was connected to four themes: passion, people, purpose, and failure. 

He said that when he graduated Penn State in 1981 amid a national recession he lacked passion. That lack of passion delayed his success. Eventually, though, his work ethic sparked his passion and his career accelerated. 

“Find your passion early. Be passionate about your personal relationships. Be passionate about your work,” he said. “Live your life with intensity. Have meaning and direction in your lives.” 

Tarriff moved on to people, stressing that it is crucial to associate with like-minded friends and family. He said the right people motivate and inspire one another, both personally and professionally. 

“Your social norms and your core ethics will be influenced by the people you interact with. You will start to take on the norms of your social network,” he said. “Not only will you be influenced by them, but you will, in turn, influence them. Life is all about the company you keep.” 

The next theme he explored was purpose. No matter what your interest, Tarriff emphasized that practicing caution in choosing what friends, family, and employers you associate with will pay dividends. 

“Be sure they represent themselves, conduct themselves, and create value that you will be proud of, that you can believe in and find purpose in,” he said. 

Finally, Tarriff emphasized the value of failure and the potential lessons to be learned from failing. 

“Failure is not the end of the world. It is not the end of your dreams,” he said. “We all fail from time to time, at least I hope we will. If you don’t fail occasionally, you are not pushing yourself hard enough.” 

The 2018 Smeal commencement video can be found online.

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