A Harvard MBA Widow Tells Classmates ‘You Kept Me From Drowning’


The entire written transcript of her speech is here:

Dear HBS friends and family.

I am here today to thank you for saving my life.

One year ago, I was sitting there at Baker Lawn watching the graduation ceremony, as a happily married, 27 year old, RC student. Like you, I remember I was worried about taking final exams and anxious about whether I had chosen the best summer job for my envisioned career path. Little did I know that the news I would receive that same week would drop a bomb in my life. A bomb much more devastating than I could ever have imagined.

As many of you know, after endless medical tests and huge uncertainty, my husband, our classmate Pedro, from section D, was diagnosed with an incurable form of stomach cancer.

On that day, my world, as I knew it, melted below my feet. We were far away from home, far away from our families in Brazil. All we had here was HBS. And in my journey since that day, I have discovered what makes this community so special. Students, faculty and staff, friends and people I had never met. All of you worked together, tirelessly, to help us through our hardest days.

I cannot overstate just how proactive, resourceful and impactful you all were in our battle. You gave us access to the best available treatments and to the best doctors in the world, some of them here today. You coached me on how to best advocate with the medical teams to make absolutely sure we tried everything possible until the very end, which I am confident we did. Your affection created an environment around Pedro that inspired him and captivated an entire hospital. You even kept us fed sometimes, perhaps, a little too well fed.

But the most important present you gave us was your presence. You were truly there for us, always caring, ever selfless. You cried but you also bravely laughed with us in that cold, but also very vibrant hospital room, where four months later Pedro passed, knowing how loved he was. And in the many months that followed, you kept me from drowning. By listening, by understanding, by engaging me in every possible way. You led me to rediscover fun and ended up helping me to reinvent a complete new life for me. A new life, full of new dreams, new passions and new revelations about myself and what I am capable of. I could never thank you enough.

I truly would not be here today about to receive my diploma with this class, if it were not for you.

Pedro gave us an example of kindness, courage and resilience. But also of someone who was able to really engage in each experience and to deeply empathize with each person. Just a few days before his passing, HBS was kind enough to present him with his very own graduation diploma. Upon receiving it, to the astonishment of all our friends that rallied around us that day, he held it and said “HBS is a place for development. I learned and accomplished a lot here. There are many things that I still wish I could do, but I know there are many people here that will do it for me.” And he smiled to his mom, and to me.

I wish I knew what those things were but I know he would be so proud to see us today bravely welcoming our new challenges ahead, in new industries, in new geographies. And he would be proud of me facing my fear of public speaking outside the comfort zone of my native language. In fact, I even wore high heels, which I truly hate, just to prevent me from shaking. Because nothing would stop me from pouring my heart out to you with my most sincere beliefs. He would be proud because Pedro was a dreamer. Because he believed in our potential, even when we did not see it ourselves, even when we were each certain that we were that one admissions error. But as I am sure you have heard by now, Dee Leopold does not make errors.

Ironically, the only quote I used 5 years ago in my 2+2 admissions essays was “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, or the funnier Brazilian version of it “O que não mata, engorda” – which translates to “what doesn’t kill you, makes you fat”. Back then, I was relating to my mom, my personal superhero growing up, who has been successfully battling MS for almost 40 years. But I only fully understood the meaning of this simple quote after getting to know you and your stories. All of you have known suffering and even so, the brightest smiles I have seen in the hallways in Aldrich have been worn by those who survived the most difficult situations, those who have conquered their own personal battles. May your hard won smiles that I am seeing right now, continue to inspire people, as they have inspired me.

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