Commencement Speakers to Class of 2024: Values Are Your Guiding Principles

Undergraduate receives degree at Commencement

On a joyous day of accomplishment and aspiration, the Babson College community celebrated the Class of 2024 during the undergraduate and graduate Commencement ceremonies Saturday on its Wellesley campus. 

Just before they marched across the stage and collected their diplomas, the College’s newest graduates were reminded of the importance of establishing and holding to values by the Commencement keynote speakers—renowned entrepreneurs Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98, the owner and chairman of the Blank Family of Businesses, and Trustee Eric Johnson ’72, H’24, P’08 and his daughter, Erin Tolefree H’24, leaders of the Baldwin Richardson Foods Company. 

WATCH the full Commencement ceremonies: UNDERGRADUATE and GRADUATE. 

Blank addressed the undergraduate Class of 2024, while Johnson and Tolefree delivered the College’s first joint Commencement address to the graduate Class of 2024. Johnson, chairman of Baldwin Richardson Foods, and Tolefree, the company’s president and CEO, also were awarded Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. 

“It is your values that will create the stable foundation that will carry you through the many hills and valleys as you enter the next chapter of your life,” Blank said. 

Prepared for the Future 

Blank encouraged graduates to embrace a set of personal values in navigating life’s inevitable challenges. He spoke about losing his father at 15 and how the example of his mother shaped him.  

“While there were many directions my life could have taken after such tragedy,” he said, “it was in my mother’s resilience that I quickly learned the type of young man I wanted to be.” 

As a Babson graduate, Blank said, “I was once exactly where you are today.” He didn’t know then in 1963, he said, that he would become the co-founder of The Home Depot or own sports businesses and teams, such as the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United. He didn’t know that he’d be able to give back and serve communities, or that one day he’d have his name on a building on Babson’s campus. 

“It is your values that will create the stable foundation that will carry you through the many hills and valleys as you enter the next chapter of your life.”
Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98

“Even saying it now is truly unbelievable and very humbling to me personally,” Blank said. “What I did leave Babson with were my dreams and my grit and my values that were my foundation for anything that would come next.” 

He told the graduates that they, too, are prepared for the future. “You should all leave here confident knowing that the lessons you have learned during your time at Babson is the spirit that will drive you forward as you navigate the world beyond this campus,” Blank said. “You already have what it takes to achieve greatness; you being here today proves that.” 

Values and Valuable Lessons 

At the graduate ceremony, Johnson and Tolefree made history in delivering the College’s first joint Commencement address, sharing their entrepreneurial experiences and leadership lessons. 

Johnson described his professional journey from Johnson Products Company—which his father, George Johnson H’76, P’72, G’08 founded—to building Baldwin Richardson Foods, one of the largest Black-owned food industry businesses.  

For the Johnson family, innovation at Baldwin Richardson Foods has been constant. Just as persistent, though, have been Johnson’s principles. “In order to retain real values, there can never be a time or an event when they are compromised,” he said. “You either have values or you don’t. There are no exceptions.” 

“Today, Babson graduates another class of students into the world, which means the world becomes a better place than it was yesterday.”
Erin Tolefree H’24

Tolefree reminisced about growing up in the family business and the lessons she learned from her father, rooted in his Babson experience. “He had learned, in life and in the classroom, that entrepreneurship is a pathway to impact, to providing opportunities where they otherwise might not exist, that entrepreneurship can drive real economic impact in your community,” she said. 

“Babson drills into its students that you have to be committed to impact, and this value guides me as strongly as if I had attended college here myself.” 

She assured graduates that when their values become their North Star, they will never deviate off the path. 

“Today, Babson graduates another class of students into the world, which means the world becomes a better place than it was yesterday,” Tolefree said. “A world that values impact more than it did yesterday, that values people more than it did yesterday.” 

Words of Wisdom, and a Special Ceremony 

Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD told graduates that they’re prepared to make a difference. 

“Your Babson mindset has equipped you with the ambition to make the world a better place as you identify what success looks like for you,” he said to undergraduates. “The world needs you. You are the entrepreneurial leaders who will change society for the better. Know that we are proud of you, and we look forward with great anticipation to see the substantial impact you will have for many generations to come.” 

Alyssa Keith ’24, the undergraduate student speaker, encouraged her classmates to embrace change as an opportunity to grow. Concluding by reciting a poem she composed about their transition into graduates, she read, in part: “We can find comfort in the undefined, / In paths diverging from what you designed. / But most importantly, we must never give up an imperfect fit, / Because, in time, we might just grow into it.” 

“The world needs you. You are the entrepreneurial leaders who will change society for the better.”
President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD

Zixu “Haha” Ha MBA’24, the graduate student speaker, spoke of shared experiences and uncommon bonds formed among classmates and the power of collective wisdom often surpassing individual genius. “Together,” he said, “a group of Babson students, as intelligent and sophisticated as we are, can, no doubt, achieve remarkable things.” 

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees also were awarded at the undergraduate ceremony to President Emerita Kerry Murphy Healey H’24, the 13th president of Babson and former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and Harry Susilo H’24, P’96, G’24 ’26, founder and chairman of the Sekar Group. 

The Commencement celebration continued Monday with a special ceremony for students unable to attend Saturday, including student-athletes involved in postseason competition. Among others, graduating members of the baseball, softball, men’s lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse teams received their diplomas in a raucous Carling-Sorenson Theater, packed with family, friends, and teammates. 

Check out more photos in the slideshow below from the ceremonies and celebrations:

  • Arthur M. Blank

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