MBA Commencement Speaker: Emilia Dunham, MBA/MPP'16

May 22, 2016

Emilia Dunham

This morning, it is my distinct honor and privilege to speak for the Heller School MBA class of 2016!

To respect your time, and knowing it’s impossible to not go on all day trying to fit all of the inspiration, nostalgia and hope into this speech, I will abbreviate some of it in attempts to maximize effect. Therefore, imagine I am elaborating on each of these following points with gusto:

My own personal story of struggle: probably highlighting discrimination and painful experiences as an LGBT person. But now’s not the time to go there or explain how I’m pretty much all of those letters, but I will say, we hate public restrooms just as much as anyone else!

I would then sample some of the many struggles and various backgrounds of our classmates, their various important causes and impressive resumes. Pallavee, Alena, Lawrence and each of you—you all were killing it before you even got here!  Some of you against challenging odds.

Then ease into the struggles we faced at Heller: hours of classes in G4, late nights at Zinner, wishing we made different life choices during the Team Consulting Projects—just kidding, I love you, Rick and Max!—and being so tired you put vegetable stock in your coffee instead of milk.

At this point I would build intensity and get serious mentioning major progress and tragedies since we started school to highlight the dynamic world around us and why we do what we do. All while resisting the nerdy urge to make obscure Presidential election jokes.

After this I’ll make a hard contrasting shift to inspiration! Basically, we all wish we could have recorded Brenda’s words of wisdom after each accounting final, and from Leadership realizing the world is your Blue Ocean, and that good management is everything from Carol’s strategic 2x2s to Jody’s emphasis on relationships.

What this program taught me most, is that we actually are going to make a difference - because from what we’ve gained at Heller, we don’t just hope for change, as empowered leaders we can trust in what will change.

Because we will be tomorrow’s great leaders—Andrea Hayes will create a business creating care products for women of color, Mary Casady may start a consulting business empowering women to advocate for equal pay, Kalee Whitehouse a corporate responsibility leader for environmental sustainability—and as sarcastic as I so clearly am, there’s nothing I believe in more.

My point for this at-times silly speech is to convey what I try to keep in perspective—because we deal with frankly, serious social and industry problems: importance of maintaining sense of humor and seeking out things that make you smile.  And remembering the most important thing, to me and many of us, is family—be they those that raised us and/or our chosen family: because what drew us here are our big hearts, we make family wherever we go—and we leave here wicked smaht not just with fancy diplomas, but with a Heller family.

So think of what inspires you, what drives you, how you cope with stress and who can help you get there. Look to your heroes, and imagine this speech closing with one of their best quotes.

On behalf of all of us, thank you parents, siblings, partners (I am waving to mine), colleagues (mine from Fenway Health are here even though I don’t work there anymore), extended and chosen families, all faculty and staff at Heller—you helped us get here and made this worthwhile. (Also our pets, the latter of whom cannot be here today because they are animals.)

Thank you and congratulations again to the Heller MBA Class of 2016.