Ariel Washington grad speech: ‘Here at the right time’

Ariel Washington, MBA ’19, was the student speaker at the graduate programs graduation recognition ceremony on May 17, 2019, selected by her peers. Here is what she had to say to her fellow graduates.

Thank you Dean Taylor. And thank you to the family members and friends who have joined us today, to those family members and friends we wish could be here today, to the administrators and staff who have supported us, and the faculty who have left a permanent mark on each of us.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the catering, Bauer Café, and Starbucks staff who have kept us fed and thoroughly caffeinated these past two years, and the facilities staff who keep our campus, classrooms and study spaces pristine. Their work has certainly impacted our time here as well and is appreciated.

You guys—we did it! We made it through two years of late nights, early mornings, before class-case speed readings, and post-exam decompression sessions—aka the drinks at the Knight Pub—and it is finally graduation day!

I stand before you humbled and in disbelief; humbled to be chosen to speak for all of us today—thank you—and in disbelief of how quickly it’s all gone by. I mean, think back to our very first semester here: when you were working on the Cranberry case—didn’t this day seem so incredibly far away?! But it’s here.

Today is bittersweet—I know that we are all happy to leave case write ups and problem sets behind, this has been an amazing time. Grad school is a little different than undergrad—we arrive with more life experience, we’re more sure of ourselves and yet—we have so much to learn. What I’ve discovered during my time here is that, while I sharpened my accounting skills, delved into operations, and marinated on the finer points of economic theory, I have been equally impacted by each of you outside of the classroom.

Now, I may be a little biased, but I think that there is something distinct and unique about our class. We are 39% women, 18% minority, 38% international representing 20 countries. We are going into the private sector, non-profit, and entrepreneurship.

We have members of the military, parents, members of the LGBTQ community, bi and tri-lingual students. We have a multitude of religions and ideological beliefs, we even have people who have grown to love this weird St. Louis style pizza! And if someone were to catch a glimpse of us all together on a Thursday night at a THAC they’d see all of those differences coming together to compose the mosaic that is the Olin MBA Class of 2019.

I put off pursuing my MBA for what felt like a long time, but it turned out to be at the exact time, at the exact school, and with exactly the people it should have been—I could not have chosen a better bunch than all of you.

My mother always tells me that no matter what situation I find myself in, to soak up all the information I can. To find the good, uncover the lesson, and to leave the experience with something. As someone who is a little older than the class average age, I was a bit apprehensive about going “back to school”, but I took my mom’s advice to heart when I got here—I decided that I was going learn all that I could at Olin—in and out of the classroom. I did my best to be fully involved and present.

Often times that entailed me fearlessly raising my hand in a class—say, strategy—only to have Professor Elfenbein pause at the whiteboard, marker in hand, and abruptly turn around and move on to the next comment without writing down anything that I’d said. Other times it was persevering through hours-long core meetings with my awesome team members—Greg Brown, Maitrayee Goswami, Junho Kim and Dave Paquette—debating the perfect way to hypothetically do a complete overhaul of the micro-loan system in India.

Whether I was in a class, a study room, a scavenger hunt, or another country with all of you, I did my best to soak it all in, apply my own body of knowledge and experience, and glean what lessons I could to take along with me on this next journey. That is what I hope to imbue in you today: to be enthusiastic and unafraid in your continued pursuit of knowledge. We have learned so much here, but we are not graduating as experts in all things business, and certainly not in all things “life”.

As we go out into the work world—some of us for the first time, some of us again—I implore you to continue to be inquisitive, open-minded, to pose informed questions, to socialize with people who are different than you, and to accept that it is just fine to be uncomfortable and unsure and imperfect at times—even with an MBA!

Today, we end this chapter of our lives, but another one begins. As we disperse across the country and around the globe, I look forward to the positive impact and contributions that each one of us will make in this world. I could not be more proud of all of us, and could not be more proud to be a member of this class. Congratulations Class of 2019!

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