Proud families with wide smiles filled the Comcast Center on Friday, May 21, 2004. As graduating seniors, MBA candidates, and PhD candidates walked onto the arena floor with heads held high and future expectations even higher, members of the audience stood anxiously in hopes of getting a quick glance of their loved ones. Commencement is certainly a time of excitement for new beginnings, lasting friendships, and cherished memories.
At the Robert H. Smith School of Business 2004 Spring Commencement, graduates, families, and friends alike were also excited for a different reason: This year Smith welcomed Gary Williams, '68, head coach of the University of Maryland men's basketball team, as the keynote speaker. Williams proved one of Smith's most popular speakers at a graduation ceremony and his presence seemed to heighten the thrill of the crowd as distinguished guests approached the podium.
When the audience settled, Dean Howard Frank welcomed all guests and congratulated the graduates for successful completion of their respective programs. Frank said, "The dean's job is the best job in town because I get to introduce great people and shake wonderful hands." His first introduction was undergraduate speaker, V-Khye Gideon Fan (pictured, left), Smith's 2004 graduate of distinction, the highest honor a Smith undergraduate can receive.
Fan, a double major in logistics, transportation and supply chain management and international business, set the theme for graduation - reflection, change, and action. In his address, he challenged his fellow graduates to take their Smith experience and consider how they will contribute to the business arena, the economy, and their communities. "This is our time," Fan exclaimed, "to build organizations, to empower people, to create jobs, to provide quality goods and services, to use our newfound skills to serve the people of this world."
Smith's graduate speaker, Asher Epstein (pictured, right), MBA candidate and new managing director of the Smith School's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, reflected on how Smith has impacted the here and now of each graduate. He said, "Look around you, the people next to you, the staff, the first-year students. They have all profoundly impacted our lives. I leave Smith as a student better prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead." Epstein went on to thank all who influenced him and who helped him get to graduation day, a moment he refers to as one "that says from this day on, things will be different."
At the introduction of Coach Williams, the Comcast Center rattled with noise, before falling completely silent. Williams lightened the mood by reflecting on his own Smith undergraduate experience. He was a marketing major at Smith, a basketball player for the University of Maryland, and upon graduation, he had to decide if he was going to pursue his true love of basketball.
Williams spoke of taking advantage of opportunities, trusting your instincts, and having a vision. He remembered those individuals who gave him his first opportunity at coaching and assured graduates that "if you can find that one person to give you an opportunity, then it's up to you to make it happen." In his address, Williams also applauded Smith faculty. He related the role of faculty to his own and said, "Thinking and the ability to teach is an important part of coaching," and consequently one of the reasons he stayed in coaching for the last thirty-six years.
Coach Williams said that Smith and the University of Maryland have proven that "we can compete with anyone in the country academically." He left graduates with the confidence that they have been "part of a great school and a great university."
Spring 2004 Commencement ended when graduates were officially welcomed into the Smith Alumni Association and challenged by Chuck Carr '85, president of the Robert H. Smith School of Business Alumni Association, to be proud of the Smith name and active in the Smith community.