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2021 MBA Commencement Speaker: Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID '21

Descriptive Transcript


A person in graduation regalia sits against a white wall. A small, translucent black, box in the corner of the screen with white text reads: Peggy Zhang

Zhang speaks:

Good morning, my fellow graduates, family and friends, esteemed Heller faculty, staff, and administrators. It is an honor to be here speaking with you today. 

Every graduation is a pivotal point in our life's journey, reminding us to look back on the people and experiences that have led us to where we are today. My journey began in Ohio, as an immigrant family in a predominantly white suburb, my parents sent me and my sisters to Chinese school every Saturday. So we could learn the language and stories of our ancestors. It was there that I first learned the Chinese idiom, "shou zhu dai tu" or translated loosely to mean "to guard a tree stump waiting for rabbits." The story of his idiom describes a farmer who works tirelessly to grow crops, until one day he sees a rabbit run headfirst into a tree stump, providing him with a free dinner. The farmer decides to stop working in his field and sit by the tree stump instead, waiting for rabbits. But no more rabbits ever come run into the tree stump again. And all of his crops fail from neglect.

It's a bit of a silly story, but I'll never forget the messaging it conveys. You can not wait for luck to strike, for opportunities to appear just because you want them to. As a kid, this drove me to work hard and create the opportunities and make changes I wanted to see in my life, and the world around me. But the older I got, the more I learned about the world the more difficult it seemed to create this kind of change. 

As a middle-class American, I know I come from a place of immense economic privilege. I felt that firsthand, from my first job out of college meeting steel workers throughout the Rust Belt, and years later when I served for the Peace Corps in Mozambique. While seeing these economic disparities I still lacked an understanding of their causes, as well as the networks of connections to create the sustainable change within those spaces.

I came to Heller to bridge those gaps in my knowledge and experiences, but what I found, is a community filled with people of different backgrounds, identities and with a wealth of knowledge, that changed my view of the way the world is, and the way the world could be. I have been challenged by my professors who have brought in my perspectives, and increased my understanding of intricate systems. I have been guided by administrators and staff, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to meet the needs of myself and fellow students. I've been humbled by my fellow students who have had such a passionate intuition for advancing social just causes, especially those of my MBA cohorts. 

My cohorts have voted me most likely to be seen at every Heller extracurricular event, a title I wear with pride. I have attended everything from business competitions to virtual trivia nights, never wanting to miss an opportunity to learn from them. 

Our time at Heller will forever be marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and a well overdue racial reckoning. But as American activist and novelist, James Baldwin, once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." We face challenges and uncertainties of an ongoing pandemic, and I've seen the compassionate and encouragement of each one of you as you lifted each other up and supported one another. We've faced tough conversations about the realities of the racial inequities that still exist today. And I saw courage and conviction, as you spoke your truth and took collective action before systemic and systematic changes within our communities.

Without action we would be like that farmer sitting by a tree stump, waiting for change to happen to us. But you've reminded me that no matter how daunting something may seem nothing can be changed unless we face the problem and take action. 

My fellow graduates, you are all innovative thinkers, resourceful leaders, and strategic problem solvers. The world as we knew it in 2019, may never exist again. But you've shown me that you have what it takes to tackle the societal problems we face and create an even better world for the future.