Setting Sail: Arlene Cummings Prepares to Inspire at TEDxBabsonCollege  

Arlene Cummings poses for a photo with her daughter Madison Spence and son Myles Spence in the background.

Arlene Cummings MBA’24, P’24 has been preparing for her upcoming TEDx talk her whole life. 

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always envisioned myself talking to the masses,” Cummings said. “Even when I was on my own, talking into darkness, I’d imagine I was talking to an audience.”  

So, when Cummings learned that she would be one of 14 people scheduled to speak at the eighth annual TEDxBabsonCollege on March 23, it felt like kismet. And, when she learned the theme of the event is “Sailing the Storm,” that seemed fitting, too. 

Register today for TEDxBabsonCollege, March 23 at Knight Auditorium.

Cummings will graduate this spring after completing Babson’s rigorous one year MBA program and she’ll be graduating alongside her youngest daughter, Madison Spence ’24. The dual accomplishment is a sweet victory for a family rocked by a difficult divorce 10 years ago, and Cummings continued hard work as a single mother.  

“I don’t think things could have aligned more perfectly. Graduating with my daughter at the same school, it’s amazing,” Cummings said. “Madi is just incredible. I’m so honored to be her mom.” 

The Calm After the Storm 

A go-getter with dreams of entrepreneurship, Cummings married young and earned a bachelor’s degree but put her career on hold to raise her three children. She even considered getting her MBA at Babson in the mid-2000s.  

When Cummings suddenly became a single mother in 2010, Madison was 10 years old. The Randolph, Massachusetts, mother was committed to making sure that Madison, Myles, and Michael remained supported and loved, with all the opportunities that had always been available to them. 

Arlene Cummings MBA'24 and her daughter, Madison Spence '24 will graduate together May 11. (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)
Arlene Cummings MBA’24, P’24 (right) and her daughter, Madison Spence ’24, will graduate together May 11. (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

Her talk, called “The Storm Before the Calm,” addresses the difficulties she faced before the relative calm of the Babson campus. She leaned on her strengths as a communicator to pull through, and words took on a new significance as she navigated an unexpected, unchartered life.  

“What we decide to use as words for ourselves and what we decide to accept from others as descriptors, it really determines our path,” Cummings said. As a young bookworm, she embraced descriptors such as curious and gregarious.  

“Suddenly, I found myself in a place where words were assigned to me. Words like Indigent. Destitute. Victim,” Cummings said.  

“I said, ‘I’m not a victim. Don’t you dare think that I’m going to sit here and I’m going to curl up in a corner,” Cummings said. 

Cummings and her children persevered. Her eldest son, Michael Spence, graduated from the University of Southern California and is currently an investment analyst. Myles Spence attended Babson and is now co-founder and chief brand officer at DeLorean Next Generation Motors. 

Leaving the Harbor 

Once Madison and Cummings’ son Myles were accepted to Babson, the 55-year-old mom decided it was time to apply to the College herself. 

Madison Spence, Arlene Cummings, and Myles Spence all attended Babson College.
Arlene Cummings (center) said Babson has provided her family, including daughter Madison (left) and son Myles (right) a place to thrive. (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

“Babson was special from day one. I felt and still feel nothing but love for and from the entire Admissions team,” Cummings said, adding that they went above and beyond to help her navigate financing for the rigorous one-year MBA program. And, as she considers a future in consulting, Cummings has been able to rely on the Graduate Center for Career Development.

“The team made it clear that they are here to support me along my journey, and have delivered at every point,” Cummings said.

“Babson saw something and invested in me, I’m confident that they’re pleased with their return on investment thus far, and the returns that are still to be realized.”

There’s a subscript to this year’s TEDx theme that was originally written by John A. Shedd: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” 

Cummings hopes her story will inspire others to set out to sea, no matter how unchartered the waters might be. 

“Cut the line, drop the rope, and leave that port,” Cummings said. “Whether it’s a relationship or an unfulfilling job where you feel like you’re not valued. It will be scary, and it will be inconvenient, but it will be worth it.” 

TEDxBabson College Speakers

TEDxBabsonCollege is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23 at Knight Auditorium. Other speakers include:

  • Stephen Brand, assistant professor of practice in entrepreneurship  
  • Marcella Brebaum MS’12, founder of Modern Couples Coaching  
  • Dom Capossela, teacher and food enthusiast  
  • Aric Flemming Jr., assistant director of doctoral programs at Harvard Business School  
  • Shawn French, founder and CEO of The Determined Society LLC  
  • Mike Grandinetti, lecturer and AI expert  
  • Mark Magnacca, co-founder and president of Allego Inc.  
  • Didem Önem, global talent acquisition operations Leader at Eaton  
  • Jim Osman, CEO and founder, The Edge Group  
  • Mikhail Papovsky, founder and CEO of Massaro  
  • Leyi Shen ’27, music composer and Babson undergraduate student  
  • Tara Shuman, founder and chief learning officer of Wildewood Education 
  • Elyssa Smith, trauma-informed life strategist of Your Best Moment 

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