Grad speaker: ‘Magic that really can only be experienced’

  • May 21, 2018
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 4 minute read

Neelam H. Vyas, president emeritus of the Olin Graduate Business Student Association and MBA ’18, delivered this address as the student speaker at Olin’s Graduate Graduation Recognition Ceremony on May 18, 2018.

Thank you, Dean Taylor. I stand before you this afternoon with deep pride for our business school and deep gratitude to my classmates for the opportunity to reflect on our time together at Olin.

There’s something about this place that’s hard to put into words—a magic that really can only be experienced. I began my journey at Olin with the first-day jitters of a second-grader. To be honest, I was a bit intimidated to be joining a class made up of former consultants, “human calculators,” engineers, contestants on the Price is Right, teachers, volleyball champions, and veterans.

But after those first few classes during orientation, icebreakers under the heat of the August sun, a lovely evening on the Mississippi, and the first of many free happy hours, fears were displaced by excitement for what was to come.

For many of us, the next two years would challenge our assumptions, crystallize our ambition, and transform our understanding of who we could be. Together, we survived our core classes—which introduced us to key business concepts, made us near-experts on cranberry processing and the airline industry, and taught us the hard way that nobody’s safe from a cold call.

The study rooms became our second home and our core teams became our second family. We learned the language of debits and credits, mastered acronyms like ROI and CLV, and embraced the ambiguity of the phrase “it depends.” We developed models and forecasts, and we leveraged business’ biggest buzzwords to highlight our assets and deliver impact on our presentations and papers.

We tightened up our resumes, polished our LinkedIn profiles, took a lint roller to our suits, and hustled hard for our dream jobs.

Our education at Olin has empowered us to pursue these jobs as stronger, wiser professionals with refined business acumen. But the truly exceptional part of the experience—the Olin magic—is what spills beyond the classroom. That magic is the intimacy of knowing our classmates’ stories, the impromptu conversation in a stairwell with a professor.

It’s the celebration of marriages, babies, and new four-legged sidekicks who’ve joined our growing circle. That magic is the warmth of our community, the inspiration we find in each other, and the strength of our network. For me, the last two years have been defined not by the courses or the cases but by the people. In a program where you can know everyone by name, I’ve learned that these relationships are priceless.

So, on behalf of the class of 2018, I want to extend a sincere thank you to our professors, administrators, staff members, alumni, donors, and our families here today who have supported and guided us through this journey. And I thank you, my classmates, for the lessons you’ve taught me along the way.

In you, I’ve found leaders, role models, coaches, tutors, confidantes, cheerleaders, trusted advisors, thoughtful critics, and friends. I’ve learned that there is tremendous power in being open to others—putting your authentic self forward and respecting the vulnerability it takes when others do the same.

This openness means admitting that you don’t have all the answers and recognizing the untapped lessons to be learned when you chisel past the chit chat. It’s the people who are at the heart of the Olin experience. And in the same way, it’s the people who are at the heart of every business.

Of course, I’m grateful for the wealth of skills and knowledge that create the foundation for our analysis and decision-making going forward. The world is moving quickly, and this foundation is needed to keep up. Our roles as future business leaders will demand more though.

They will require that we bring the same care and respect for people that we’ve found at Olin. Society and its leaders have a heightened awareness for the impact that business can have on the fabric of a society. As those future leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to model ethical behavior that places as much emphasis on people as on profits.

Accounting skills alone won’t be enough; it will also require accounting for other perspectives. We’ll not only need to focus on operating with efficiency but also operating with integrity. We’ll need to prioritize economic value as well as social values like empathy and inclusivity.

We’re in luck, because we can look to the kind of community we’ve shaped at Olin as we take on new jobs, establish new homes, and expand our networks. As this community and program continues to evolve, I hope we stay engaged as active alumni, ready to reinforce and support the next generations of Olin’s full-time MBAs, part-time MBAS, and specialized masters students.

My hope is that we stay connected to each other and cherish these days as a reminder of the values we share and a model of what a true community looks like.

Thank you.

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