Introducing Babson College’s 2024 Commencement Speakers

Composite portraits of Arthur M. Blank, Eric Johnson, and Erin Tolefree

Commencement represents the culmination of years of hard work, recognizing both accomplishment and preparedness for new challenges. The pomp and circumstance of the day underscores how important an experience Commencement is for our graduates, their families and friends, and all who have supported them from Babson. Such an extraordinary milestone demands the participation of extraordinary entrepreneurial leaders.

I am pleased to share that Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98 will serve as this year’s undergraduate Commencement speaker. And for the first time in Babson’s history, we will have a joint graduate Commencement address delivered by Eric Johnson ’72, P’08, Chairman of Baldwin Richardson Foods and Babson Trustee, and his daughter, Erin Tolefree, President and CEO of Baldwin Richardson Foods.

Arthur, Eric, and Erin are exemplary entrepreneurial leaders.

LEARN MORE: Babson’s 2024 Commencement ceremonies on May 11.

Undergraduate Commencement Speaker

Portrait of Arthur M. Blank
Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98, co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United FC

As the co-founder of The Home Depot, Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98 now owns and operates a large and diverse portfolio of businesses, including the nation’s largest golf retailer, PGA Tour Superstore, and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United FC. Arthur Blank’s professional and philanthropic endeavors have been substantial since graduating from Babson, and he has been distinguished by Forbes as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds. One of the College’s greatest supporters, Arthur has had a revolutionary impact on entrepreneurship education in our community.

His generosity and belief in the power of a values-driven entrepreneurial mindset helped launch The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this fall. The Blank Center has been a critical resource for Babson students. Since its inception, it has provided emerging entrepreneurs with access to vital resources and an evolving network while promoting entrepreneurial thought leadership around the world. I valued my time as the director of the Blank Center and have long admired Arthur and his commitment to Babson.

Fittingly, this year marks the graduation of the inaugural cohort of the Arthur M. Blank Leadership Scholars, a program supported by Arthur’s transformative $50 million gift to establish The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership—the home of Babson’s six world-class centers and institutes. It will be an honor to hear him address our graduates this year as they begin their next chapters.  

Graduate Commencement Speakers

Portrait of Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson ’72, P’08, Chairman of Baldwin Richardson Foods

Eric Johnson ’72, P’08 and Erin Tolefree will make history as Babson’s first joint Commencement speakers. Eric and the Johnson family have left indelible marks on the Babson community. Eric is the Chairman of Baldwin Richardson Foods Company, a company he founded and the leading manufacturer of custom food and beverage ingredients and one of the largest African American-owned businesses in the food industry.

Eric, a current Babson Trustee, has long been a passionate Babson supporter and believer in the power of entrepreneurship. As a student, he founded Babson’s Black Student Union (BSU). Today, the BSU’s living space, The Johnson House, is aptly named in his honor. Eric and his family company’s generosity has established such vital campus resources as the Baldwin Richardson Foods Term Chair, the Johnson Family Term Chair, and the Baldwin Richardson Foods Scholars Programs.

Portrait of Erin Tolefree
Erin Tolefree, President and CEO of Baldwin Richardson Foods

Erin has spent much of her professional career at Baldwin Richardson Foods, continuing her family’s multi-generational commitment to family entrepreneurship. She first joined the company as a National Accounts Manager after graduating from college before advancing through roles including Vice President of Sales and Executive Vice President. Throughout her career, she has masterfully navigated her family’s company through growth and production expansion.

Her management skills and “people first” leadership approach served Baldwin Richardson Foods well during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she successfully guided the company through substantial challenges in supply chain demand while prioritizing the health and safety of employees. She assumed the role of President during the first year of the pandemic and was named CEO in 2023, continuing her family’s legacy of leading with impact. Erin serves on multiple boards and is a graduate of Spelman College.

Additional Honorary Degrees

In addition to our graduate Commencement speakers, Babson will bestow two additional honorary degrees during our undergraduate ceremony:

Kerry Murphy Healey, Babson’s 13th president and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. During her presidency, Kerry led efforts to increase Babson’s international profile, championed women entrepreneurs, and oversaw a substantial $200 million renewal of our Wellesley campus. It will be an honor to welcome Kerry back to campus.

Harry Susilo P’96, G’24 ’26, founder and chairman of the Sekar Group, also will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Harry founded the Sekar Group, an Indonesian-based international conglomerate focusing on food production, healthcare, property, and mining, in 1966. The company began as a small fishing operation in rural East Java and today employs approximately 20,000 people and exports products worldwide. I look forward to welcoming Harry to campus, though he is no stranger to Babson being the parent of an alumna, grandparent of members of the Class of 2024 and 2026, and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs®.

Commencement is the ultimate celebration of a successful academic career. I look forward to congratulating our graduates as they cross the stage on May 11 and to hearing the wisdom that Arthur, Eric, and Erin will share with our community.

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