At the School of Business master’s and doctoral programs commencement ceremony Friday, students, family and friends packed the Smith Center to celebrate the achievements of more than 600 graduate students.
Speakers during the ceremony highlighted the diversity of the graduating class, which boasts members from 70 countries, and urged graduates to savor the moment before taking their skills into the business world to tackle global challenges.
Here are some highlights from the ceremony:
1. Finding your superpower
Keynote speaker Miranda Ballentine, an assistant secretary of the Air Force and 2004 GWSB alumna, praised graduates for making it to this day, in spite of any personal obstacles they may have encountered during their studies. Ballentine spoke of her own challenges while pursuing her M.B.A., telling graduates that the pressure of working full-time while attending school could feel overwhelming.
“By your own sheer grit, and by resiliency I bet you didn’t even know you had, you made it,” she said.
Ballentine, who spent several years as a sustainability director at Walmart Stores, Inc., quoted Walmart founder Sam Walton to hammer home the importance of confidence and ambition in the workplace.
“Go do what you are big enough to do,” she said.
Ballentine left graduates with the message that they should be their best, even when there’s nobody watching. She stressed the importance of honing in on one’s “professional superpowers” to best contribute to the global community.
“It’s that special thing about you that you bring to the world, that you bring to your job, that’s so inherent that you might not even know you do it,” she said.
2. ‘Savor this moment’
Student speaker John Khalil Sakakini praised his fellow students for the diverse perspectives they’ve brought to the business school. He gave a special shoutout to those who took time off after their undergraduate education before pursuing graduate study.
“Returning to graduate school was no easy decision for any of us,” he said. “It took so much to get to where you are today, so savor this moment of accomplishment.”
Sakakini spoke of the bonds he forged with his classmates as they spent hours each week learning from, and getting to know, each other.
“We took on the most challenging of assignments and always, on the other side, emerged stronger and as a family,” he said.
During his time as a graduate student, Sakakini served as president of GWSB’s LGBTQ+ student organization and worked to increase school diversity through events and activities on campus. He spoke of all the students representing a wide range of nationalities who left their mark on him during his years of study.
“Together, we are the microcosm of the world, and what the United States has proudly stood for 200-plus years,” Sakakini said.
3. Continuing a legacy
Dean Linda Livingstone, who will step down from her position in June, left graduates with a story about a painting of George Washington that hangs in her office. The image shows Washington in the snow at Valley Forge with his head bowed in reflection, she said.
“For me, as I walk by that picture in my office each day, it’s a daily touchstone for me of the legacy we have the responsibility to build on as faculty, staff, students and alumni,” she said.
Livingstone encouraged graduates to always display the qualities of leadership, courage and service as they forge their paths and continue to uphold the values of George Washington.
As the ceremony came to a close, Livingstone noted to students that their degrees, while vested in and by the Board of Trustees like at any other college or university, have the backing of another special governing body.
“As you leave here, and carry on the legacy of George Washington with a degree granted by the authority of the U.S. Congress, that is truly an Only at GW moment,” she said.
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