Heller MBA Commencement Speaker: Princess Osita-Oleribe, MBA/MS'15

Princess Osita-Oleribe, 2015 MBA Commencement Speaker

Let me start by appreciating this great honor of delivering a speech on behalf of my amazing, diverse and highly intellectual classmates. I sincerely congratulate each of us graduating today for our foresight, courageous steps, perseverance in meeting the tough demands of graduate school and for the victories of today and onwards. Our work in the past months and years is now the cause of our smiles today. As Art Linkletter said: “Things turn out best for the people who make best the way things turn out."

Before I came to Heller, I worked with nonprofit organizations in Nigeria bringing health services to where people live and work. In the course of my work, I met Emmanuel Caleb, a sixteen-year-old boy who had lost both parents to HIV. So now he had to take on a role too big for a child; he was the head of his household. Both he and his younger brother, Kenneth, were HIV-infected, forgotten in a society that hasn’t made present day provisions for their today, nor for their future. They had no health insurance, no guarantee of shelter, food, education or any kind of security.

I desired the power to make helpful and significant changes happen for them. But the health care system, and the development setting within which I worked, did not have the resources or the priorities to provide them with enough support. It was frustrating not to be able to help them more to meet their challenges. I wondered how we could uplift their lives, and so many like them, who are not only voiceless but also invisible in most societies.

I knew that higher learning offered me the potential for greater impact, for a way to understand how to make structural changes in the systems people relied on for their well-being. The challenge was that the high quality education I wanted was very expensive, very expensive in terms of finances, mental exertion, family and social responsibilities. But I resolved not to take what life had handed me but to take from life what I desired from (and for) it. So I pushed my way through till I got to this prestigious Heller School. Thank God I had the support of my husband and my extended family—many of whom are seated here today.

Studying at Heller has been one of the most important happenings of my life, because it helped to shape my view of life.  It taught me that empathy is not enough; appropriate actions are required. According to one of my Heller friends, “There is something the Heller School does to your brain that I can’t explain. It resets your brain such that all matters of social justice take precedence over everything else!”

Social justice, yes…fairness and equality are still far-fetched in many societies today. We have seen this year as we have come from so many countries around the world that racism is still on the front burner in the US. In my country, Nigeria, poverty still stares us in the face, and all over the world inequalities, in their various facets, abound. Just recently, I read a post of the global citizen community that highlights 11 laws from around the world which stand in the way of gender equality: for instance, women are mandated to obey their husbands in the DRC; in the US, there are obstacles in obtaining US citizenship for some children born out of wedlock outside the US depending on which of their parents is a US citizen; and in Egypt, honor killing of wives by husbands is protected by the law. Time will fail me to touch on many other issues of inequalities relating to rights to religious freedom, rights to education, LGBT rights and so on.

The challenge for us today, having gone past the coursework and the capstone, is to live before we die! Live, by going out there and actually advancing social justice: lending our voices to the voiceless, bringing light to dark regions, and so on and on and on.

Today, having earned an MBA in Nonprofit Management with my cohort (not forgetting my MS degree), we know that great profit is not only measured in dollars and cents but also in the lives we are able to touch and change for the better. Like me, I know that Heller graduates are set to contribute positive energy, our newly-earned knowledge and hard-won skills to the world. So let us not feel alone in this course we have set out on, but always take the front row in facilitating, collaborating and fostering sustainable global development, peace and conflict resolution. Let us take the lead in formulating and implementing policies with practices that advance social justice. Moving forward, I encourage us to keep a monthly log of how we have advanced the course of social justice. We owe it to ourselves, to the Heller School and to the world to live lives and do work that is worthy of making it into this log!

God bless the Heller School, God bless Brandeis University, God bless the USA and the world at large!