As he stood in line surrounded by celebration—the caps and gowns, the balloons and confetti—Abdullah Zahid ’21 reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture of his mother.
“I’m keeping her picture on me all day,” says Zahid, a Global Scholar from Pakistan. His mother’s name was Humaira Mansoor, and she had passed away far too young. Zahid remembered her great cooking, and he remembered the many sacrifices she made for his education.
“This is her special day as well. It’s a dream come true, not just for one, but for two,” Zahid says. “I’m feeling a lot of gratitude.”
That one word, gratitude, was heard many times the first weekend of May, when members of the Class of 2021 gathered for their in-person Commencement ceremonies. If you chatted with them, in between all the hugging and picture taking, they often talked about how grateful they were feeling.
They were grateful for their family, professors, and friends, but there was more than that. In a year that felt so tenuous, so challenging and uncertain, they also were thankful that they had made it through and now had the opportunity to gather together to celebrate.
“This year has been trying,” says Reed Wilson ’21, surveying the blissful scene at the campus parking lot where he and his fellow classmates waited to join the procession into the Commencement ceremony. “I’m taking a deep breath and enjoying it. I’m grateful to be here. We’ve made it.”
Reflecting on the Past Year
The month of May was overflowing with festivities at Babson, with a variety of Commencement events held not only for the Class of 2021 but also for the Class of 2020, which had seen its Commencement postponed because of the pandemic.
During the first weekend of May, the in-person Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021 filled the campus with a joyous commotion, with Biz E. Beaver sporting a cap and gown, cannons firing confetti, and a drone taking pictures overhead. The weekend was loaded with memory, emotion, and pride.
“I am very proud of myself and my peers,” says Emily Sterczala ’21. “We kept at it through the pandemic. We have been through a lot.”
As Sterczala and her classmates reflected on their time at Babson, particularly the past year and all of its concerns, many thought of how the pandemic had changed them. “It taught me a lot about resilience,” Sterczala says. “Even in the worst of times, you can make good come out of that.”
Luna Zhang ’21, meanwhile, gained a new outlook. “I have learned not to take things for granted,” she says. “I have learned to live every moment to the best that I can.”
Julia Ferrara ’21 has become more adaptable, an important skill for business and for life. “Being able to adapt to things not going your way is beneficial,” she says. “It will serve us well in the future.”
Femi Moito MBA’21 says that relationships changed in the pandemic because of social distancing and remote learning. Connections had to be made in new ways.
“We lost relationships, and we found relationships,” he says. “We were still able to find friendships in unexpected ways.”
For Bryce Kitagawa ’21, the pandemic meant he needed to make a decision. He spent the fall 2020 semester taking classes remotely in his native Texas, but to close out his Babson career, he chose to return to campus for the spring. He was glad he did. “It was fantastic, a lot of great moments,” he says. “It concluded our journey.”
Jean Christian Arosemena MBA’21 was faced with a similar situation. He lives in Panama, and when COVID-19 hit, he debated taking a hiatus from Babson’s Miami MBA program. Instead, he carried on. “I am proud I stayed,” Arosemena says.
At Commencement, all 13 of the students in Arosemena’s cohort, who hail from such countries as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Spain, made the trip to campus. “Finally, we made it through all the adversity,” he says. “It shows the dedication people have.”
When faced with a world turned increasingly unpredictable, Babson is a comforting place to be, says Juan Vergara MBA’21. The lessons learned here are practical and essential. “We were able to put them into practice immediately,” he says. “We are proving Babson’s values and the tools we are acquiring by living through an unprecedented situation.”
Despite all the disruption of the past year, he says, “I am glad for the experiences we had.”
“Babson is the biggest asset I have in my life!”
Ivan Sene MBA’21, founder and CEO of Spoten, a box of Babson products from student and alumni businesses
Much More to Celebrate
This isn’t to say that the Class of 2021 is defined simply by the pandemic. Graduates celebrated many accomplishments, both big and small, professional and personal.
Earning her degree was just one of two major milestones for Amrutha Ananth MBA’21 this year. When she walked across the stage at Commencement (left), she carried the second: her baby girl, Ahiri, who was born in March. Having a baby while in business school wasn’t always easy, she admits, but she is grateful for the support both Babson and her family gave her. “This was a very special day for me,” Ananth says. “Walking the stage while holding my baby will be a moment I will cherish forever.”
Juan Solares MBA’21 also balanced the responsibilities of business school with parenthood. His 2-year-old often was seen running around during video meets with classmates. He also has a 4-month-old baby. “It’s been challenging,” he says. “I had a lot of help from my awesome wife. She is the backbone.”
When her own son graduated from Clemson University, Linda Monroe MBA’21 decided to return to college herself. “I’m probably one of the oldest students here,” Monroe says. “It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for so long. It’s a dream come true.”
Twice before she had attempted to earn an MBA. The first time, she dropped out because her husband’s job took them to another town. The second time, she stopped because she had gotten pregnant. Through the years, however, she never gave up on furthering her education. “I love to learn,” she says. “I’m the nerdy kid who loves business. When I took classes, my brain lit up.”
Zachary Andersen MBA’21 decided to earn his degree because he felt unsatisfied. “I didn’t like where my life was at,” he says. “This offered me a chance to do it better.” For five years, he chipped away at the degree, working full time while taking classes part time. “I’ve been at it for a while,” he says. “I’m feeling a lot of satisfaction. To finally be here—it’s pretty amazing.”
Jonathan Katz ’21 was struck by how much he has grown during his time at Babson. “I’m thinking about the first time I entered campus,” Katz says. “I was much younger and had less business knowledge, less experience, for sure.”
Leticia Parreira ’21 also was thinking of her younger self. “I can see a completely different Leticia from freshman year to senior year,” Parreira says. “I feel the Leticia of freshman year would be really proud.”
She wouldn’t be the only one. A Global Scholar from Brazil, Parreira is the first person from her hometown of Jaguariúna to study abroad. Its residents have been following her Babson journey, and Parreira was thinking of them on Commencement day. “I come from a small city. They are really proud,” Parreira says. “I am lucky to have a community rooting for me.”
“Babson means opportunity, plain and simple.”
Ben Norris ’21, who won the 10th annual Babson Sales and Trading Competition and who is joining Citigroup as an analyst in the sales and trading program
The Small Moments
Commencement certainly was a cacophony of emotions and activity, but as they reflected on their time at Babson, some graduates didn’t linger on the big things such as the life accomplishments or the pandemic and all the hurdles overcome. Instead, they thought of the small moments, the fleeting memories, the quiet times.
Theodore Provo ’21, for instance, took time after the Commencement ceremony to have his picture taken with a giant inflatable Biz E. Beaver. It was one of a number of photo stations set up across campus for the graduates to visit, and Provo was first in line at the beaver.
That’s because, as a new student at Babson, the first picture he took was with the Biz E. Beaver mascot in Trim Dining Hall. He thought a last picture with the beaver would be a fitting bookend to his Babson experience.
With Commencement weekend turning out sunny and lovely, Andrew Josephs ’21 was thinking of how, after a long winter, the campus always looks so beautiful in the springtime. “The grounds people put a lot of effort into it,” he says. “That’s when the campus looks the best.”
Nicholas Widjaja ’21 thought of friendship. Specifically, he thought of a night when his Babson friends, having played board games until the wee hours, decided to stay up and watch the sunrise. They first took an Uber to IHOP, and then watched the sun come up over the Charles River. “It was very pretty,” Widjaja says.
It was a simple moment of everyday beauty, and as the bustle of Commencement swirled about him, it was that simple moment, shared with friends, that he thought about. The last four years had been made up of many such occasions, of friends coming together for good times, but now the future awaited for Widjaja and his classmates.
“I can’t believe it’s been four years,” Widjaja says. “It still hasn’t hit me yet.”
As we celebrate the members of the Class of 2021, here is just a sampling of their achievements and accomplishments during their time at Babson:
Britney Aguayo ’21, a Posse Scholar and the Global Student Leadership Award recipient, delivered the undergraduate Commencement address: “It’s on us to recognize our differences as beauty in diversity; it’s on us to choose community over currency; and it’s on us to make every day count from this point forward.”
Charlie Sedlock ’21 earned an appointment to the prestigious Teach For America program. He will be working in Richmond, California, just north of Oakland, educating and mentoring underprivileged students.
Mezue Eneh ’21, who joined Babson in January 2019 as part of the GAP cohort for the Class of 2022, completed his degree in just 2½ years with an exemplary GPA. Eneh also was the first community manager of The Johnson House. “I am grateful for my blessings,” he says.
Christine Coyne ’21 and Maya Mutalik ’21 co-founded a fundraising campaign to improve the Babson Community Garden and rename it Sudeeksha’s Secret Garden in loving memory of classmate Sudeeksha Bhati (2000–2020).
Aakriti Narang MBA’21 and Deepak Lachman Punjwani MBA’21 served as co-chairs of the inaugural Babson Global Entrepreneurial Leadership (GEL) Forum. They also each received the Ralph Z. and Charlotte R. Sorenson Scholarship Award.
Aakash Shah MBA’21 won the graduate track of the 2021 B.E.T.A. (Babson Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®) Challenge for his venture, High Time Foods, which created a plant-based chicken product.
Rachel Zelcer MBA’21, president of the Graduate Student Council, co-moderated a panel discussion with Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98 and four senior leaders from the Blank Family of Businesses. Zelcer also received the Graduate Student Alumni and Friends Network Award and the prestigious Roger W. Babson Award.
Marc Baghadjian ’21 and his dating app, Lolly, were featured by Forbes, which described the app as “a cross between TikTok and Tinder.”
Jonathan DiModica ’21, who dreamed of attending Babson since eighth grade, expanded his sneaker business, Got Sole, and his nonprofit organization, Your Local Lemonade Stand, as a resident of eTower.
Kevin Teeter ’21 and Alexa Tutecky ’21 served as co-chairs of Babson’s Hearing Board, raising awareness of a modernized Code of Ethics and the importance of key ethical decision-making skills.
Duruo Murray ’21, a Posse Scholar and leader with Babson Pride and Origins of Necessary Equality (ONE), received the 2021 Undergraduate Pride Award and was lauded for making Babson a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.
Nathalya Mamane MBA’21 was named to Poets & Quants’ 2021 Best & Brightest MBAs list and received the Award for Academic Excellence for the highest GPA in the One-Year MBA program.
Max Feber ’21, who landed a deal with Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank” in 2019, sold his startup cold-brew coffee company, BRUW.
Aria Mustary ’21 won the undergraduate track of the 2021 B.E.T.A. Challenge for her venture, Mai Soli Foundation, which addresses child marriage and gender inequality in developing countries.
Vaidehi Tembhekar MBA’21, who co-founded the ride-hailing app Busy Body in her native Kenya, delivered the graduate student address at Commencement: “At Babson, we don’t wait for a perfect moment. We take the moment and mold it to be perfect. We respond to circumstances by looking for opportunities to survive, to create, and to thrive.”
Matthew Pattyson ’21, a guard on the men’s basketball team, was named Student Athlete of the Class for having the highest GPA among graduating student-athletes.
Gauri Tawde MBA’21, president of the Babson Business Analytics Club, led Babson’s flagship analytics hackathon, Babson Hack, partnering with Wayfair and including 130 students from six universities.
Sydney Logan ’21, a Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) Scholar, originated the idea of The Johnson House, the special-interest living space named after Eric Johnson ’72, P’08, the founder of the Black Student Union. It is her proudest achievement at Babson, she says, “not only for myself, but for what it means to my peers, and what it will mean to Babson in the years coming.”
Dario Guerrero ’21, who received the 2017 Diversity Leadership Award, was an active campus figure as a member of the Black Student Union, the Latin American Student Organization, and ONE.
Khalid Alayoub ’21 worked with the nonprofit QueenTech Initiative in West Africa as part of the Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship course.
Annie Sheil ’21 also earned a Certificate of Engineering by registering for five courses at Olin College of Engineering. “This invaluable addition to my Babson degree, I believe, ultimately helped me land my dream job as a product manager right after graduation,” she said.
31 Double Beavers earned their second Babson degrees, including seven student-athletes from the Class of 2020 who returned to compete in the spring sports season:
William Gallagher ’20, MSBA’21, baseball
Michael Nocchi ’20, MS’21, baseball
Jacqueline Paul ’20, MSBA’21, softball
Valerie Quinlan ’20, MSF’21, women’s lacrosse
Brooke Stock ’20, MSF’21, softball
Jack Theriault ’20, MSBA’21, baseball
Matthew Valente ’20, MS’21, baseball
Kenza Qermane ’16, MBA’20, MSBA’21, who earned her third Babson degree, served as an analyst and co-program coordinator for the new Babson UK/Europe Accelerator Programme.
Daniel O’Hanlon ’21, who served as the team manager during the baseball team’s historic run to the College World Series in 2019, won the prestigious Roger W. Babson Award for excelling in scholarship, cocurricular activities, and leadership.
The Babson Students for Black Lives Matter fundraiser—led by Britney Aguayo ’21, Jaylen Bell ’21, and Motolani Osinowo ’21, along with other student leaders—enlisted 81 student groups.
Vinayak Nayak MBA’20, MSBA’21 served as vice president of sustainability in the Graduate Student Council and completed three internships.
Wasi Mahi ’21, president of the Student Government Association, won the Ted Grossman “Beaver Believer” Award in 2020.
Cem Kullukcu ’21 placed second at the sixth annual Analytics Without Borders conference for his Babson Honors Program research project examining racism and hate speech in soccer.
Carolyn Fligor ’21 was one of more than a dozen graduates to attend the Legacy Family Pinning Ceremony. Fligor is the daughter of Andrew Fligor ’84, P’21 and Leslye Fligor ’84, P’21, who began dating as undergraduate students at Babson.
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