Graduation 2015: Go Where You Can Do Your Best Work
Testy skies kept the peace long enough Sunday morning to allow new graduates from 10 schools at the University of Virginia, including the Darden School of Business and its Dean Robert F. Bruner, to have their moments in the sun.
After thousands processed down the Lawn in their caps and gowns to kick off UVA Final Exercises on 17 May, Dean Bruner offered a commencement address with words of encouragement that were likely familiar to the more than 400 graduating Darden students in the audience.
“You should go where you believe that you can do your best work,” Dean Bruner advised, after comparing graduation to the moment when Alice met the Cheshire cat and asked which way she should go from there in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
“The word ‘best’ directs you to think about what you really value, how you define success. Here’s where the lures of fame, fortune and fun usually crop up,” he said. “But there is a different way to think about your work: what is ‘best’ is necessarily service to a calling.”
He admitted that finding one’s calling is an imperfect, difficult task that requires listening to a “still, small voice” that comes from within. However, finding that calling would allow the members of the class of 2015 to do their best work, which would be its own reward and leave the world a better place.
As Darden’s graduation ceremonies shifted from the Lawn back to North Grounds, the wishes of more than 2,000 graduates, faculty, alumni, family and friends weren’t enough to coax the ominous clouds away. The threat of thunderstorms forced the Darden graduation indoors to the North Grounds Recreation Center.
Despite the venue, Dean Bruner was prepared for the weather with two hats — his traditional mortarboard given to him by his mother and an orange UVA baseball cap, the centerpieces of his message to the 302 residential MBA, 67 MBA for Executives and 28Global MBA for Executives graduates who received their degrees at the ceremony.
The mortarboard, he said, was worn by his mother as a professor of English over decades of graduation ceremonies. Wearing it made him feel embraced by the spirit of a scholar. While it was ornate, formal and traditional, it represented a time when civilization awoke from 1000 years of barbarism into the Renaissance. It was a hat of thinking. The baseball cap, on the other hand, was associated with practicality, simplicity, comfort and “above all, action.” It was a hat of execution.
“Take both hats with you, at least in spirit: a hat of thinking, and a hat of doing,” Dean Bruner said. “You need both hats to survive and prosper in the world you face.”
Donning their thinking caps, the graduates walked across the stage in front of a packed house of family and friends while many more watched live from Darden’s classrooms. More than 40 graduates received the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, given to those who demonstrate outstanding academic performance throughout their careers at the School, and 14 received the C. Stewart Sheppard Distinguished Service Award for exceptional contributions to the School or University. Annie Hannah Medaglia (MBA ’15) won the Frederick S. Morton Award for her excellence in leadership while Kevin Joseph Berger (EMBA ’15) won the Darden MBA for Executives Faculty Award, given to the student whose outstanding manner contributes to a supportive and equitable learning environment.
Before the graduates received their scrolls and awards, though, student speakers representing the MBA, EMBA and GEMBA classes took the stage to offer their parting words. All three struck themes about how meaningful the Darden experience — particularly, the people — was for them.
“During these 21 months, we met friends and mentors. We have been inspired by so many people from so many different places. We have shared laughs and pain. We have worked so hard,” said Julien Jean Charles Phillipe Menager (GEMBA ’15). “I was born in France, I live in the U.K., I have worked in Paris, Geneva, New York and London, but the thing that defines me most is my experience at Darden.”
Brian Michael DiBella (EMBA ’15) picked up on the theme of inspiration from Darden’s mission. He said the amazing moments his class experienced during their studies, like visiting China, seemed to be about acquiring knowledge. “But something more important was happening,” he said. “Those were the times that inspired us.”
Martin Joel Erzinger Jr. (MBA ’15) said his first year at Darden taught him the importance of grit — “being pushed to your limits and experiencing the joy of achieving more than you knew you could” — while the summer months after First Year and his Second Year helped him search for his passion. He credited Darden’s faculty with letting his class into their lives, showing them first-hand what passion looks like.
“If passion is the compass to point you in the right direction, then grit is the engine that makes sure you arrive,” he said.
Menager perhaps summed up the culmination of the Class of 2015’s Darden experience best: “These 21 months have been so intense. But look at us now. We have been transformed.”
To read the full text of Dean Bruner’s commencement speeches, visit the Dean’s Blog.
Watch Dean Bruner’s UVA commencement speech:
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia