Commencement, no matter its form, is a moment of pride, accomplishment and celebration. It’s a moment, in the words of undergraduate student speaker Juliet Jack, to see opportunity.
“There’s a lot of talk today about the new normal. Specifically, how our lives will look post-pandemic. Where others may see uncertainty, apprehension and fear, I urge you to see opportunity – opportunity to create, innovate and become the most authentic version of yourself,” said Jack, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in management. “I urge you to let uncertainty fuel passion, apprehension give birth to new beginnings and fear shed light on hope. If these two years have taught us nothing else, they have shown us that we are stronger and more resilient than we ever thought possible.”
On Wednesday, Maryland Smith held a virtual commencement ceremony, honoring graduates across its programs – some 166 business master’s students, 176 MBA students, 23 master’s fellows, 235 undergraduate students, and 60 undergraduate fellows.
Less than a week earlier, with COVID-19’s omicron variant spreading across Maryland and much of the country, University of Maryland President Darryll Pines announced “with a heavy heart” the decision to cancel all winter commencement events. “The decision was not made lightly,” he said in an email to the UMD community, inviting all winter graduates to the spring commencement in May 2022.
At Maryland Smith, Smith leaders and graduation organizers quickly pivoted, assembling a virtual ceremony to reach graduates and their loved ones, wherever they are.
Smith Dean Prabhudev Konana addressed graduates in the virtual event, noting how honored and proud he was to celebrate the milestone achievement with the graduates, even in its virtual form.
“Today, as you graduate, you are more prepared for transformational thinking in this ever-changing world, more capable of critical thinking, more confident in your leadership skills, and more resilient in your responses to adversity. You are ready to go out into the world, to lives of meaning and purpose, and impress the heck out of everyone who meets you. We are so proud of you,” Konana said.
“In these extraordinary times, I hope you challenge the status quo, take on grand challenges, and stand fearlessly for what is right. That is a life filled with purpose.”
Jahi Jones, graduating with a master of science degree in business analytics, spoke to graduates about realizing a dream. For Jones, a college education was a dream realized.
“My dream was to create a better life for myself, loved ones, and to make a difference for others,” he said, describing how in high school he set his sights on a college scholarship, giving his all in the classroom and on the wrestling team. He’d earn a full scholarship to attend the University of Maryland, not through athletics, but through the Incentive Awards Program. “IAP was the opportunity needed to carry out my dreams,” he said. He’d eventually join Maryland’s wrestling team, becoming team captain in his senior year. Jones would graduate early with a dual undergraduate degree in accounting and supply chain management. He was inducted in the Maryland Medallion Society and was awarded the B1G Medal of Honor, before embarking on his master’s degree.
“The cancellation of graduation to many of us was devastating,” Jones said, “however we should remain proud of our great accomplishments. As we close out this chapter of our lives, remember to dream big, charge opportunities and execute with resilience. And once you’ve reached your trip, help someone else reach theirs by granting opportunity.”
And Laura Gomez Cadena, graduating with an MBA and a master of science degree in information systems, spoke to graduates about resilience, adaptability and being a “former perfectionist.”
When she began her graduate studies at Smith, she said, she set a timetable for everything. “I coordinated my classwork, planned my meals, and scheduled my days down to the minute. I wanted everything about my time at Smith to be perfect. I know many of you wanted the same,” she said. “And then, March of 2020 happened. Suddenly, all the plans we’d made went out the window. Internships were canceled, events were delayed, classes went remote.”
She flew home to Colombia, not knowing when she would return. “During our time here at UMD, we’ve all been forced to confront a different world from the one we expected – a very imperfect world. But confronting that world has taught us some important lessons. We’ve learned that uncertainty doesn’t just bring hardship; it brings opportunity.”
Students learned new skills and found ways to distinguish themselves in new ways. They discovered an ability to learn, work and thrive in the kinds of remote environments that are increasingly common in today’s workplace.
“The past two years were not perfect,” Gomez Cadena said. “But they taught us that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be rewarding, joyful and exciting.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.