Entrepreneur in residence Richard Palmer MBA’16 kicked off this year’s TEDxBabsonCollege with a story about finding success after a near-death experience, and it turned out to be the first of many stories detailing how failure, pain, and heartbreak paved a path toward a new and better life.
“I am standing here, not unscathed but triumphant,” Palmer told the crowd at Babson’s Knight Auditorium. A brain aneurysm nearly took Palmer’s life and required him to learn how to speak, walk, and read all over again.
“I applied to Babson with a shaved head and a cane, narrowly navigating the window between pain medicines,” Palmer said. After graduating from Babson, he co-founded Gravyty, a Newton, Massachusetts, provider of AI-enabled fundraising software. “Nearly dying helped me realize how I wanted to live, how to harness the power of my vulnerability and stop wasting time,” Palmer said.
Palmer was the first of 13 speakers at TEDxBabsonCollege 2023 who shared their passion and life lessons with an audience packed with members of the Babson College community.
“We’ve asked our speakers to take you to the edge, and I hope that you will feel inspired,” said Lawrence P. Ward, vice president and dean of campus life. “I hope that your intellectual and emotional interests will be piqued, and I hope that you will feel compelled to expand your own boundaries, regardless of your level of education.”
Two other Babson alumni shared their stories of success and inspiration.
Success for Jerry Lee ’17, co-founder of Wonsulting réumé and career consulting company, was more of a winding path. The first step was a simple goal, become financially independent to help pay back his parents. Less than two years after he graduated, Lee was not only financially independent, but he and his brother also were able to purchase a house for the parents who had sacrificed so much to raise their sons in America.
“I wish I could tell you it was part of a beautiful, grandiose plan, but it wasn’t. It was a result of me saying, ‘Listen, what are the things that interest me and how do I put action behind that,’ ” Lee said. Two years after Wonsulting started, Lee said, the company has 1.7 million followers and made Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
“We are the architects of our own luck,” Lee said. “Take action and let that manifest your own luck.”
Kathleen Jewby MBA’24 was feeling frustrated and stuck when she began to put together goal books—compilations of inspirational quotes and images that reflected the life she wanted to live.
“I couldn’t change the painful past, or the current situation that I was in at that exact moment, but I could create the future of who I was going to be and what I wanted to do in the future,” Jewby said. She defined power as the ability to make choices without fear, and encouraged the audience to shake off their fears.
“Even when we fall and fail and make mistakes, we should believe in our infinite strength and power,” Jewby said.
Stories at TEDx could be deeply personal. José Rodriguez Jr. ’25 talked about his younger brother, Joel, who has Asperger’s syndrome. The two are close.
“Growing up, Joel and I did absolutely everything together, from learning how to tie our shoes to playing video games to navigating school,” said Rodriguez, who, inspired by his brother, founded Tasium, which sells shirts that have attached fidget toys so as to help those with autism and ADHD with their anxiety.
Although Joel does well academically in school, he struggles socially. He often eats his lunches by himself. “Growing up, I would see him eating lunch all alone because no one took the time to have a conversation with him, to engage with him,” Rodriguez said.
To the audience at TEDx, Rodriguez suggested three ways that the world could be more inclusive and not be so isolating. Be an active listener, he said, and try to connect with others. Also, advocate for those who struggle. “We all can do three very simple things to make this world a more inclusive space,” he said, “so no one has to eat lunch alone.”
For decades, Sandra Bravo MBA’87 has had a strong passion and concern for improving the foster care system. Her interactions with that system have left her angry, heartbroken, and, ultimately, determined.
During her TEDx talk, the associate professor of practice in marketing talked of being a college sophomore and mentoring a 13-year-old girl in foster care. The girl’s name was Kathy, and her mother was a drug addict and prostitute. “Kathy was broken, voluntarily mute,” Bravo said. “She would follow me around campus, but she would never look me in the eye, and she would never say a word.”
During one visit, Bravo gave Kathy a doll. “She hugged that doll so tightly, and she looked me right in the eye and she said, ‘Thank you, Sandy,’ ” Bravo recalled. A few days later, Kathy’s mother decided that her daughter wouldn’t visit Bravo anymore. Bravo said, “So I decided no child should suffer like this and that one day I would adopt a child out of foster care.”
“We all can do three very simple things to make this world a more inclusive space, so no one has to eat lunch alone.”
José Rodriguez Jr. ’25, founder, Tasium
In the years that followed, Bravo started her own nonprofit, the 440K Project, which raises awareness about the plight of foster children and seeks to make fundamental changes to the system. She and her husband also adopted two foster children: J.R. when he was 5 and Elijah when he was 2.
Last year, at the age of 24, J.R. died from a drug overdose. Bravo candidly spoke of his death. “I was drowning in grief,” she said. Thinking of the many children to be helped in foster care, however, has kept her going. She told the TEDx audience that they have the power to make a difference in their corner of the world. “Let nothing and no one stand in your way of doing the right thing no matter what happens,” she said.