‘DAMN. I’M GOING TO MISS YOU!’
Luca Cian, the Italian-born marketing professor, sat in the living room of his home in front of a blazing fireplace. “Damn,” he said with genuine affection. “I’m going to miss you. It’s been two fantastic years. Now times may be tough. But remember you are tougher. You have the Darden DNA in you!”
Former Dean Robert Bruner, now returned to the teaching faculty, quoted Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And Martin Davidson, Darden’s senior associate dean and chief diversity officer, filmed his segment outside in a wooded area near a creek. His simple and sincere message: “Go be remarkable! Our world needs you. It’s been an honor and a privilege to learn with you.”
A similar faculty salute was part of the virtual celebration at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management on May 16th. “I want to let you know how impressed I’ve been with your curiosity, engagement and commitment, especially over these last few months,” one of the Carlson profs told the Class of 2020. “You should be proud of your accomplishments.”
At Wharton, graduating MBA Bautista-Saeyan delivered the student address on risk-taking from her living room as her four roommates cheered her on from behind the camera. She shared the story of her mother, who had immigrated to America at the age of age, a mother she lost two days before Bautista-Saeyan was to start her undergraduate education at Brown University.
‘WE’LL MAKE NEW MEMORIES IN THIS ZOOM AND BLUE JEANS ERA’
“When my mom was 18 she had to risk her entire life because she thought she would have a better one in the U.S.,” she told her classmates. “It was 1979 and in her home country of Iran, there was a revolution. She could no longer dress how she wanted to or study what she wanted in school. Once she and her family realized they would never return back to a state of normalcy or back to a place they could call home, they packed up their bags and started a new life in America. My mom had to learn new skills and raise a family in an unfamiliar place. She had to lose some of her culture to assimilate. But it was a risk worth taking.”
Bautista-Saeyan acknowledged the unusual circumstance of her graduation. “Sure,” she said. “We don’t get that in-person ceremony or that warm congratulatory hug from our favorite professors. But we have already learned how to bond, show support, and make new memories in this Zoom and blue jeans era. We are a class that has been tried time and time again and each time has overcome challenges head-on.”
For Katerina Athanasiou’s MBA commencement address at the Ross School, she chose a cap and gown, focusing her message on the value of community. “Tucked into a town of 120,000 people, you really get to know and rely on each other,” she said of her MBA experience in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It’s the tradition of community. Leaving this cocoon, stepping into the next chapter of adulthood, will be a big transition. I predict there will be many group text threads, and memes, cups of coffee and glasses of wine poured, questions asked: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Can I do this?’ ‘What makes me fulfilled?’
‘I TRULY UNDERSTAND THE DISAPPOINTMENT THAT YOU FEEL. I FEEL IT, TOO’
“Along for the ride will be this incredible group of people, our peers, our team. We will be stewards of each other, which is a beautiful thing. I am grateful to be part of a school that celebrates that kind of generosity, with a sense of obligation we have with each other.”
No one could beat the passion and enthusiasm of Dean DeRue at Michigan’s Ross School. Speaking from his living room, DeRue filled the small screens with bursts of energy, waving his hands and speaking with conviction as an MC for the entire proceeding.
“COVID-19,” he noted, “has changed all of our lives in so many ways. It has forever altered our world, not just how we go about our day-to-day lives but also our true sense of what is important in this world: the people in our lives, our families, our friends, our classmates and our colleagues. I want all of you to know just how much you mean to me…
“Class of 2020, this is not how we planned to celebrate this culminating moment of your time here at the University of Michigan. I truly understand the disappointment that you feel. I feel it, too. Commencement and graduation is one of my favorite moments of the year…Sometimes life throws challenges at us and our character is not defined by the challenge but rather how we respond to that challenge. And I cannot be more proud of our Ross community, our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, how everyone has responded and today is no different.”