Shriya Penmetsa’s graduation speech: ‘Success is constantly going to evolve’

  • May 29, 2024
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 4 minute read

Hello to the class of 2024 and to all the parents, family members and supporters joining us today. I feel so honored and lucky to be here, and I’ve got to give it to the Olin undergraduate business school for preparing me for this.

Being up here on stage isn't even half as stressful as our first Management 100 exam. And we took that on Zoom.

Class of 2024, I truly cannot believe the day has finally come. And, unlike 2020, we actually got a ceremony this time. And not just an e-mail that overused the term “unprecedented times.”

The graduating class of 2024 voted for its choice of student speaker for its graduation celebration ceremony on May 12, 2024. Shriya Penmetsa, BSBA 2024, was the class's choice. This is her address to her classmates.

I don't know how you all are feeling about the whole graduating/future thing, but to tell you the truth, I'm pretty terrified. I mean, for 17, 18 years of our life, school is pretty much all we've ever known. For as long as I can remember, I've measured my life in semesters and summers, 11:59 p.m. deadlines, GPA, extracurriculars, and classes. And suddenly I'm supposed to measure my life in fiscal years?

I guess what I'm trying to say is I don't really know who I am without being a student. And I don't just mean the academics. I mean all of it. When I think of my time at Olin and at WashU, I think about the ease with which I met some of the best and most brilliant people that I know. I think about basking in the sun on Mudd Field on a warm day or frolicking through Europe during study abroad or going to Bauer Hall to “lock in,” only to end up yapping with everyone there and never getting anything done.

But even when we look around here, we just see so many familiar faces, whether it's friends, teammates from group projects, or at the very least, people you've sat behind in class while they do The New York Times games on their laptop. I know that there are a ton of exciting things that come with adulthood beyond college.

But I can't help but feel strange saying goodbye to a comforting era of my life that I've cherished so much for so long.  

Shriya Penmetsa

While change is pretty much inevitable as much as I've tried to convince myself otherwise, one thing I do take comfort in is that it's not just our circumstances that change, but also us as people and how we define happiness and success is constantly going to evolve.

And think about yourself when you were a freshman walking into WashU—jump scare, I know. But the things that made you happy then probably look at least a little bit or a world different than today.

Back then, fulfillment might have been ace-ing a class, landing your dream internship or making a new friend. But tomorrow, happiness could be treating your parents to something nice, pivoting your career, fighting for a cause that's important to you, or getting back into a hobby you've always loved.

So, whether you're terrified about the future like me, over the moon, or have no clue what's next, be open to the idea that your notions of success and happiness are iterative. That's why I've always hated the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?” I mean, sure, I have a pre-rehearsed answer that I've somewhat convinced myself is true. I know future planning is important, but I'd just be naive to project what I want today onto how we’ll define success and happiness a decade from now.

With every success and failure, rejection, eye-opening experience and new perspective about the world, we're bound to change as people. And hey, a lot may change in the years to come, but I'm confident that the relationships and the friendships that we've built during our time here will remain strong—whether we're living on the South 40 or a couple hundred miles apart.

And on the note of strong relationships, I'd be remiss not to shout out my mom and all the moms. I know we only allot one day out of the whole year to celebrate all your sacrifices, love and care. And here we've decided to take that and make it about us. So Happy Mother's Day, I guess.

Jokes aside, thank you so much to all the moms, parents, family members, friends, faculty and supporters that have been with us throughout our journeys. We wouldn't be here without you.

And Class of 2024, as our time at WashU comes to a close, I'm reminded of a really cheesy, but very applicable quote: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” And with all the change in the last four years, I'm so incredibly proud of the people that we've become, and I can't wait to see the people that we all go on to be. Congratulations.

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