Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21, was the student speaker at the virtual graduate programs graduation recognition ceremony on May 21, 2021, selected by her peers. Here is what she had to say to her fellow graduates.
Friends, family, faculty, staff, and class of 2021 graduates—hello. My name is Kendra Kelly, and I am proud to be speaking to you today as a 2021 graduate of our full-time MBA program and elected student speaker for today’s graduation.
Driven by a desire to catapult our careers, we came to Olin as strangers. For my class in particular, a six-week trip around the world forever changed our MBA, transforming us from strangers to so much more.
Together, we tackled strategic challenges for Raventos ii Blanc, Gramona and Para Ventura, which are incredible wineries in Barcelona—all the while becoming Cava connoisseurs. In Shanghai, we grappled with issues facing global supply chains for beloved brands like Zara and Nike, and we even created market-entry plans for St. Louis-based Strange Donuts in Shanghai.
Throughout our six weeks we worked hard and played harder. We learned Susie Bonwich gives a killer karaoke performance, Tyler Edwards will do anything to protect his friends, Flora Fahng, Gina Wang, Alex Yang, Aurora Chen, Karen Chen, Lin Chen, Yuki Goah, Zach Frantz, Kate Veronezi, Alex Ignatius make incredible tour guides and interpreters, Dean Ashley Macrander will ALWAYS have electrolytes and Tylenol available at the first sign of illness, and Lori Witherspoon, Ray Wagner and Tim Brandt can answer almost any questions you bring to them.
Strangers, acquaintances—then family
We supported each other in our breakdowns and sicknesses and cheered each other on when we shined under the bright lights of everything from our presentations to our painfully elementary mastery of “sheih sheih”—thank you in Mandarin.
You see, we came to Olin as strangers, left the country as acquaintances, and returned as family. That trip solidified our class as pioneers of our revamped program and bonded us in ways difficult to articulate to those who did not have the privilege of traveling with us.
But the reality is, whether you were on this trip or not, the events of the last year have also bonded us in immeasurable ways. When we entered graduate school we had no idea we’d be doing so under one of the most challenging years of our lives. Some of us lost loved ones, felt the sting of rescinded job offers, were separated from family and friends for months and months on end, and grappled with trauma as this nation wondered whether or not to denounce hate targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and debated if Black Lives Matter. We wrestled these challenges and many more against the backdrop of the realization that the business school experience we thought we’d have would look quite different by the end of it.
Yet amazingly, amidst the challenges of this last year, our community is stronger than ever. In a year that could have easily broken us, we banded together, realizing that our collective strength could fortify any lack of weakness we felt individually. The things that could have easily divided us, ultimately brought us together. THIS is what makes Olin such a special place, and our class, the class of 2021, an incredible class.
Cultivate your community
Our class is assertive, self-assured yet humble, hard-working, ambitious, and primed to make good on our mission to be values-based, data-driven business leaders. As we go out into the world, I implore you all to remember that our tight-knit bond IS our superpower and that much of the greatness we have achieved in this program is the result of this village— a wonderfully diverse village comprised of nearly 50% women, over 40% international students, many races, socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. We have seen repeatedly that we are our best when we work together. As we enter our careers and become glass-ceiling shattering, game-changing leaders, I challenge you to do these two things:
First, remember to be intentional in seeking out diversity of thought, experiences and people. Cultivate a community as beautifully diverse—and even more diverse!—than the one we’ve had the privilege to grow personally and professionally in for these last two years.
Secondly, similar to how at WashU we are all known by name, face and story, be intentional in creating teams where your teammates know they belong to foster truly inclusive environments.
At a time when corporate and academic institutions alike are standing up to say Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights matter, Climate Change matters, the rights of the Differently Abled matter, Mental Health Matters, Science Matters, and so much more— I urge you to enter your roles thinking about the collective WE. As this incredible class will undoubtedly build, create, market and strategize for all across the world.
Class of 2021–TOGETHER as peers, colleagues, allies, friends and, ultimately, as a family, we did it. Congratulations on becoming esteemed alumni of WashU Olin Business School.