Family Ties at Babson’s 2024 Commencement

Aishwarya Maru and Shreya Maru stand wearing their caps and gowns

Commencement is always a family affair, and especially so this year, as for the first time in Babson’s history, a father and daughter, Eric Johnson ’72, H’24, P’08 and Erin Tolefree H’24, gave a joint Commencement address at the graduate ceremony. 

In honor of all the familial pride and love at this year’s Commencement, which aptly took place during Mother’s Day weekend, we look at just a few of the many family connections at the ceremonies. Here are those stories. 

Mamma Rita and Her Daughters 

With the undergraduate Commencement ceremony set to start in less than an hour, Rita Hansen P’24 ’27 stands surrounded by an ongoing rush of caps, gowns, and excitement. By her side is one daughter. She is waiting on the other. 

Rita Hansen and Riley Hansen
Rita Hansen P’24 ’27 (left), an administrative coordinator for student life at Babson, and her daughter, Riley Hansen ’24 (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

Rita is the administrative coordinator for student life at Babson and is known as “Mamma Rita” by the students she works with. When she first came to Babson, her daughters were 5 and 3, and Rita’s main concern was childcare. She sought a job with regular hours. “I needed a job from 8:30 to 4:30,” Rita says. “I thought I would be here two years.” 

Instead, she never left. Rita fell in love with the school, changing the course of her life and that of her daughters, who both ended up attending Babson. Nearly 18 years after starting at the College, she and one of those daughters, Mia Hansen ’27, stand in the Len Green Recreation and Athletics Complex (LGRAC) on Commencement day. Mia is dressed in her softball uniform, and in mere minutes, needs to rush off to catch a bus. She and her fellow Beavers are traveling to MIT to battle for the NEWMAC title. “Our team has come a long way,” she says. 

 As one daughter leaves, the other, Riley Hansen ’24, comes hustling along College Drive in her cap and gown. It’s her graduation day, and the trip to a campus crowded with visitors was not easy this morning. “It was a bit rough,” she says. “There were ups and downs.” 

Riley and Mia have been coming to campus practically their entire lives, attending events and even having sleepovers in Woodland Hills with a friend of Rita’s who worked and lived in Babson Park. “I grew up on campus,” Riley says. “I have developed a strong relationship to this place.” 

For Rita, having her daughters so close during their college years means she has a front row seat to their growth and journey to adulthood. “It’s been interesting to watch them,” Rita says. “They have found their niches. They are finding their path. I couldn’t be prouder.” 

Two Graduations and a Birthday 

Madison Spence ’24 is standing in line with her classmates, waiting for the start of the traditional undergraduate Commencement march, when the importance of the ceremony—and the whole weekend—hit her. 

Arlene Cummings and Madison Spence
Arlene Cummings MBA’24, P’24 (left) and her daughter, Madison Spence ’24 (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

“It’s kind of surreal that my graduation is finally here,” says Madison, who also is celebrating her 24th birthday. “I’m ending my four years, but it’s also my birthday. So, it’s kind of like, a lot.” 

Madison will watch her mother, Arlene Cummings MBA’24, P’24, take the same walk in the afternoon. The whole family, including Myles Spence, who attended Babson for a time, are on hand to celebrate a weekend packed with graduations, a birthday, and Mother’s Day. Like her daughter, Arlene earned her undergraduate degree when she was 24. 

“It’s all aligning nicely, and coming to a good end,” Madison says. “I feel really happy about today, and I feel happy about what I’ve done here at Babson and the relationships I’ve been able to build.” 

Last year at this time, Arlene had no idea she would be graduating, or even attending Babson. Madison learned that her mother had been accepted to Babson’s One-Year MBA program when Arlene showed up on campus holding her Babson OneCard. 

“I’m just really excited for her. She can finally pursue her dreams after raising the kids, and here we are graduating together,” Madison says, adding that she is grateful so many family members came to show their support. “It really does take a village.” 

Arlene agreed. She even had to move a few times, making the rigorous One-Year MBA program even tougher. “It wasn’t easy,” Arlene says. “But, I’d do it all over again because of the support, collaboration, and lifelong friendships I’ve made at Babson have just been awesome.” 

The Maru Sisters 

To some people at Babson, they are known simply as “The Maru Sisters.” On the afternoon of Commencement day, those sisters—Shreya Maru MSBA’23 and Aishwarya Maru MBA’24—wait in LGRAC, ready to make the march to the tent. 

Aishwarya Maru and Shreya Maru
Sisters Aishwarya Maru MBA’24 (left) and Shreya Maru MSBA’23 (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

Shreya graduated in December, but for Commencement, she makes sure to wear her cap and gown and participate in the ceremony with her sister. The two, after all, have come a long way to be here. They grew up in Nepal. When Aishwarya was working on her grad school applications, Shreya helped her, and, in the process, noticed a program at Babson that was a good fit for herself. “Attending the same school in the U.S. was unexpected,” Shreya says. “It was a happy surprise to get accepted together.” 

At Babson, the sisters have had each other’s backs, serving as cheerleaders and supporters for one another. If one was having a tough time in a class, the other was there to bolster and hold them up. “Aishwarya was my rock,” Shreya says. “Her unwavering belief in me kept me going.” 

They explored Boston together, and they lived together, which brought small disagreements from time to time about what to eat for dinner and who was going to cook. But to have her sister with her, so many miles from their native Nepal, was a blessing, Aishwarya says. “It was really important to have my family close to me,” she says. “When things got a bit challenging, Shreya reminded me of why we have come so far and the sacrifices our parents have made to see us succeed.” 

Their family back in Nepal was also happy knowing the sisters were with each other. “They knew that even though we are very far from them, at least we are together, which helped them sleep properly,” Aishwarya says. 

A Niece, an Aunt, and a Mother’s Ring 

Barbara Pinto MSEL’24 is scanning the frantic activity in LGRAC as family, friends, and other graduate students embrace, touch up their makeup, and adjust their gowns in the frenzied moments before the class photo. 

Barbara Pinto and Elenir Ribeiro
Barbara Pinto MSEL’24 (left) and her aunt, Elenir Ribeiro, a Babson facilities employee (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

But Barbara’s mind is in the past, describing her first visit to Babson College. Her mother, who died of cancer after a 16-year battle, was still alive. Her aunt, Babson College facilities employee Elenir Ribeiro, gave Barbara’s family a full tour of the bucolic New England campus, so different from where she is from in Brazil. 

“I was visiting the United States for the first time. I didn’t speak any English, and I had no intention of studying business at the time,” says Barbara. “I remember we were standing near the Babson Globe, and my mom told me I would study here one day.” 

Barbara dismissed the comment as a joke at the time. Today, she is once again on Babson’s campus with her aunt, about to collect her master’s degree. Her mother was right. 

“The reason why I came to Babson is because of my mother’s cancer,” Barbara says. Her venture, NestSaúde, is an integrated digital healthcare platform meant to simplify and improve the healthcare system in Brazil.  

Meanwhile, Elenir still works at Babson. She has been here for more than 30 years because, she says, it’s a great place to work. At Babson, Elenir says, she feels like she belongs to a family. 

“Today is all about family for me,” Barbara says as she hugs her aunt. Barbara is wearing her mother’s ring, a gift from when her mother graduated university. “I wanted to have something of hers with me as I graduated, because everything I do in entrepreneurship is because of her.” 

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