INSEAD held its first virtual graduation yesterday (July 2) for the 509 MBA students in its July 2020 class. Speaking from an empty and silent auditorium on the school’s Singapore campus, Dean Ilian Mihov delivered an impassioned sendoff to graduates who finished the ten-month program online during a worldwide pandemic.
“This is not what we expected or how we expected to celebrate you,” said Mihov, who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus and recovered. “Your talents, Your team building. Your accomplishments. But today I’m asking you to put aside your disappointment and enjoy this milestone in your life because today is the beginning. It’s not the end of your journey with INSEAD.”
The ceremony was a celebration of memories, friendships, the school’s best teachers, and song, nicely orchestrated by two graduates who served as MCs, Krati Tripathi & Cesar Miranda. Both the valedictorian of the class, Katrina Yavash, and the Henry Ford II scholar with the highest grade point average, Philipp Stefan Emig, were McKinsey & Co. consultants from London and Frankfurt, respectively. The awards for best teachers in the core and elective curriculums in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore were split evenly between male and female profs: Noah Askin, Michael Freeman, Lizzie Wolf, and Claudia Zeisberger.
A highlight was a song, written and beautifully performed by Nishant Store, on the lockdown the students experienced during their time at INSEAD. While it was not technically part of the graduation, it certainly should have been (see below video).
‘THE LOCKDOWN SHOWED THE DEPTH OF OUR LOVE AND CARE FOR EACH OTHER’
Sagnik Mukherjee, one of the co-presidents of the Student Council, directly addressed the quarantine imposed by COVID-19. “The lockdown beautifully showed up the depth of our love and care for each other,” he said. “The world is hurting right now and will hurt for a little bit more but if we keep this love tender in our hearts and share with the world I am confident we can help it heal, truly a force for good.”
He thanked Dean Mihov who he said, “went through the abyss and back to stabilize the school.” Business school deans always speak at commencements but rarely say much that is memorable. That was not true on this occasion. It was Mihov, dean of INSEAD since 2013, who successfully added historical perspective and significance to what would otherwise have seemed a more typical graduation, if not for the fact that it was virtual.
He compared the circumstances of this year’s graduates with the very first class of 52 MBAs who poured out of INSEAD 60 years ago in the aftermath of World War II. “Graduating from INSEAD and especially under these circumstances is a tremendous achievement and one that will accompany you no matter where you go or what kind of uncertainty you face,” he added. “The first class of MBAs was diverse for its time with 52 students from 14 countries. Of course today, it is a much broader, bigger and more beautiful picture with 590 students coming from 70 countries.
‘INSEAD IS BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER’
“When you go back in history and you look at 1945 as the world war ended, the world faced devastation of unimaginable proportions. Things at that point could have deteriorated even further if every country, every leader, focused internally and built higher walls to protect themselves from the rest of the world. And yet the world turned out to be different. INSEAD exists because key leaders prioritized cooperation and internationalism. INSEAD is built on the foundation of bringing people together from different parts of the world, to work together, to build businesses together, and to promote peace and prosperity. This is our DNA and now this is your DNA.”
The dean noted in the wake of World War II, the opportunistic behavior of individual nations had to be replaced by common obligations at a time of widespread destruction in Europe, economic devastation, the apocalyptic threat of a Cold War and growing nationalism.
“Today,” he said, “we are facing a different crisis but the tendencies toward isolation and nationalism are the same. You are entering an economy that calls for rebuilding, reimagining, and rescuing. You are entering a political and social environment that needs unity and eradication of discrimination and racism. Please remember that as you find your place, as you make decisions, as you lead, you take all that you have learned at INSEAD…Champion the values of diversity and tolerance that are the foundations of our school. It is undeniable that as the upcoming generation of business leaders you have an outsized role to play in changing the world, an outsized responsibility.”
The ceremony ended with a version of “We Are The World” played and sung by members of the graduating class. As valedictorian speaker Yavash noted, “We now have a sofa to sleep on no matter what corner of the world we should find ourselves in. For our classmates headed to the Middle East, I would expect at least a spare room. For those headed to London, a bathtub would be fine.”