More than 1,000 members of the Columbia Business School Class of 2017 officially received MBA degrees on Wednesday, May 17, at Columbia University’s 263rd Commencement, capping off several days of celebrations recognizing the achievements of the most recent graduating class. The Business School graduates included 788 members of the Full-Time MBA Program and 280 participants in the Executive MBA Program (EMBA).
On Saturday, May 13, the Executive MBA students were celebrated in a special Recognition Ceremony on the South Lawn in front of Butler Library, where they heard remarks from keynote speaker Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kate Spade & Company, as well as from Dean Glenn Hubbard, faculty members, staff members, and fellow EMBA students. Among the student speakers was Fahad Ahmed ’17, who praised his classmates as exceptional and said that they are uniquely poised to be leaders in uncertain times. “We have great opportunities in front of us — great opportunities to let us add real value,” Ahmed said. “I firmly believe that great opportunities look for exceptional people to lead. The best part is that these opportunities are already here, right now. There is an absence of leadership in the world. Leaders who are fearless, leaders who can persist when things get tough, and leaders who are able to instill optimism….So what do we do next? What we do next is seize this opportunity and fill this absence.”
Full-time students were honored at a Recognition Ceremony on Sunday, May 14, on the South Lawn. In congratulating the graduates, Dean Hubbard noted the diversity of the class, whose students hail from 66 countries, speak 58 languages and dialects, and come from a range of backgrounds. “Among you, of course, are consultants and financiers,” he noted, “but also yogis and cooks and scuba divers and cyclists and musicians, explorers, and entrepreneurs of every stripe.”
Hubbard urged the graduates to realize that their new degrees bring with them tremendous responsibility. “Never forget what a noble calling business itself is and the power that lies within each and every one of you to transform lives — not only of business leaders and entrepreneurs, but also your fellow alumni, communities, and frankly, nations around the globe,” he said.
This year’s Distinguished Class Speaker was Joyce Roché ’72, Avon Products’ first African American female vice president and first African American vice president of marketing, who later served as president and CEO of the nonprofit Girls Inc.
Roché talked about her career path, from planning to be a math teacher, deciding to earn her MBA, becoming a marketing executive, to eventually heading up Girls Inc., which she says, “provided the passionate engagement I had longed for.” Telling graduates they should work hard to pinpoint what they are most passionate about, she explained, “The quest for purpose isn’t always easy, but it’s always worthwhile.”
“Too many of us keep our gifts hidden for fear that we’ll not be accepted or acceptable,” she added. “Share all of your gifts. Our world certainly needs you. So as you enter or reenter your careers, tap into your personal power to find your passion and your purpose whatever it might be and have the courage to take a risk to pursue that passion.”
Student speaker Michael Conway ’17, whose address followed Roché’s, asked his classmates to consider whether they could have the same impact as the World–War II era’s so-called greatest generation, which he said was marked by a “shared sense of selflessness, hard work, and acceptance of a greater cause and higher purpose.”
He continued, “For each and every one of us this degree represents a gift, an opportunity, and also a responsibility. For us to emulate what defined the greatest generation, we have the obligation to use this opportunity. It is now our responsibility to be the voice for those who don’t have a voice and the voice for those who don’t have the courage to use their own voice.”
View the Full-Time Program’s Recognition Ceremony, as well as the University-wide Commencement.