EMBA Commencement speaker: Shaneeta Johnson, EMBA'20

May 31, 2020

Shaneeta Johnson, EMBA'20

Dean Weil, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, and fellow graduates, I am truly honored to represent the graduating class of the Heller School Executive MBA program for physicians. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am humbled to stand here representing real-life heroes – those who did not think twice when asked to step up and battle on the front lines to save lives. Some battled from ICU units bravely performing high-risk procedures, while others were deployed to serve in hospital areas well outside of their comfort zones. Still others battled from hospital board rooms, state task forces, and national advisory boards. Classmates, I salute you! Thank you for your service, your selflessness, your kindness, and your bravery.  I also congratulate you on completing your MBA amidst these unprecedented times.

Thank you Dr. Chilingerian and the Heller School for implementing an engaging program that not only pushed us academically but also socially, personally, professionally, and civically. 

I remember clearly the first day of classes. So many of Brandeis University’s hallmarks were evident. We were immersed in a community that both respected our diversity and embraced our vision of change in the world. But who could envision the changes that loomed so closely ahead?

This was to be a time of physical and virtual togetherness as we completed the executive MBA for physicians. Now our togetherness is merely virtual. However, I would argue that our bond has been forged even stronger, built on the principles of Brandeis that have bonded us over this short moment in time. Yes, we will miss the celebratory hugs and well wishes from the classmates and professors who have become like family. Yet, the mission of Brandeis is so ingrained within us that I am certain we will use the lessons we learned here to effect positive change in our communities and in the wider world. We are prepared to embrace this ever-changing world equipped with the knowledge, leadership, and connections we have been fortunate to obtain at Brandeis. 

I remember vividly a class on a blustery Boston day in January when, due to an unfortunate fire alarm, we were forced into the biting cold without warning. There was an immediate kinship formed as we shared whatever we could: a scarf, a throw, or even just body heat through a group hug! Now, I don’t believe that our professors were using this experience as a leadership or emotional test for our class, but every now and then I wonder!

Along with my classmates, I joined this executive MBA program in January 2019 to develop and improve leadership skills within the healthcare arena.  In September, when Hurricane Dorian ravaged my birth country, the Bahamas, displacing thousands of people and resulting in hundreds of deaths, the skills I acquired in this program were needed. I was able to forge rapid connections that paved the way for delivery of much-needed medical relief, and generate collaborations to bring about improved healthcare and healthcare delivery in that country. Brandeis has indeed prepared us to be global citizens.

But life is unpredictable. COVID-19 struck the world with extreme intensity and in unprecedented fashion. It has been a disruptor of normalcy.  It is adversity that we have not faced before. As a physician, it is a terrifying enemy that we must fight daily. As a global community, we have all suffered its impact. We have lost colleagues, family members, and friends. The way we do business as physicians has been forever changed.

We must persevere and excel in the face of uncertainty and change.  After all, in the words of Gandhi, we must “be the change in the world that we wish to see.” Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Brandeis has empowered us to move forward and to make an impact. We are now poised to make an indelible impact on this world and I daresay, we are needed right now.

I will close with the words of Willie A. Deese: “Look back, reach back, lift up, and always lean forward.”

Congratulations my fellow graduates!