In a speech that was equal parts humorous, wise, and heartfelt, Babson alumnus and Toyota Motor Corporation President and CEO Akio Toyoda MBA’82, P’14 sent off Babson’s Graduate School class of 2019 this past Saturday.
If graduates had been expecting the usual advice, Toyoda surprised and delighted with fresh words of wisdom for Babson’s 636 newest master’s degree holders.
“You should know I didn’t come here to tell you the usual stories about the mountains you may have to climb,” Toyoda began. Instead, he inspired the crowd to seek joy in life’s pursuits. “When I was a student here, I found joy in doughnuts! American doughnuts were a joyful, astonishing discovery. I want to encourage all of you to find your own doughnut.”
More than 50% of Babson students come from family business backgrounds, so Toyoda’s perspective as a third-generation family business leader was particularly relevant. His great-grandfather invented the automatic weaving loom, and his grandfather, Kiichiro, took Toyota from a fabric company to a car company in its second generation.
“How do you take the risk of making fabric one day, and cars the next?” Toyoda asked. “Even I can’t predict what kind of car we will be driving 20 years from now, but my time at Babson taught me to embrace change rather than run from it, and I urge all of you to do the same.”
Toyoda concluded his speech with a punch list for graduates. “Don’t screw it up. Don’t take it for granted. Try new things, even if you’re old. Do the right thing, because if you do the right thing, the money will follow. Decide what you stand for. Finally, don’t worry about being cool—be warm.”
The heartfelt warmth and authenticity from Akio Toyoda was mirrored in a handful of especially poignant moments throughout the ceremony. This year, the Graduate School community sadly and unexpectedly lost a beloved professor, Abdul Ali, as well as MBA student Elizabeth (Liz) Tuominen, a friend to many.
Ali was posthumously honored with the Kennedy Award for teaching excellence, bestowed by the graduating MBA students and accepted on his behalf by his friend and colleague Professor Anirudh Dhebar. “Abdul used to joke about how he would never get the Kennedy Award,” Dhebar said. “ ‘I am too demanding of the students,’ he would explain, ‘and I don’t have the charisma.’ ”
Dhebar continued: “Yes, Abdul was demanding. But, only because he held himself and everyone else accountable to the highest standards. He expected the best of each of us as he did of himself, and he worked tirelessly to help us accomplish our best. No one personified excellence better than Abdul. He would have been thrilled to receive the award, and rightly so.”
Graduate School Dean Keith Rollag presented James and Gail Tuominen, parents of Liz Tuominen, with her posthumous Master of Science in Business Administration. “Liz was a fantastic student. She brought energy and happiness to everyone she touched, and was a shining role model of someone that makes our Babson community such a special place,” said Rollag. “We miss her so much.”
Graduates from five programs were awarded degrees during Saturday’s Centennial Commencement: Master of Science in Accounting, Master of Science in Business Analytics, Master of Science in Finance, Master of Science in Management in Entrepreneurial Leadership, and Master of Business Administration.
Students beamed as they collected their diplomas, shaking hands with President Kerry Healey and Dean Rollag. Family and friends from around the world gathered under the tent to cheer on their graduates, their applause accompanied by flag waving and air horns. Several graduates brought their young children on stage with them, a testament to the juggling act many graduate students have straddled to balance classes with work and family life. For some, Saturday was the culmination of a short nine-month program, while others have been working toward graduation day for several years.
In addition to the degree recipients, honorary Doctor of Laws degrees were awarded to Toyoda, Oswaldo Cisneros G’22, Fred S.C. Kiang ’70, MBA’75, and Polina Raygorodskaya ’08.
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