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

May 24, 2021

Four Heller students in graduation regalia behind the Brandeis University stone sign
From left: Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID'21, Brontte Hwang, MBA/MA SID '21, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA COEX/MA SID '21, Tseveengerel Amgalan, MA SID '21 by the Brandeis University sign
Three Heller students in dresses and graduation caps pose with street lamps outside Rose Art Museum
From left: Tseveengerel Amgalan, MA SID '21, Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID'21 and Brontte Hwang, MBA/MA SID '21, by Rose Art Museum
Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID'21, in graduation regalia in front of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management entrance
Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID'21, in front of the Heller School

Good morning. My fellow graduates, family and friends, esteemed Heller faculty, staff and administrators – it is an honor to be here speaking with all of 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.

I was born and raised in Ohio. As 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 learned a Chinese idiom, “shou zhu dai tu,” or translated loosely, “to guard a tree stump waiting for rabbits.”

The idiom’s story describes a farmer who works tirelessly to grow crops, until one day, he sees a rabbit run head-first into a tree stump, providing him a free dinner. The farmer decides to stop working in his fields and sit by the tree stump instead waiting for rabbits. But no more rabbits ever run into the tree stump again, and all his crops fail from neglect.

It’s a bit of silly story, but I never forgot the message it conveys – you cannot wait for luck to strike, for opportunities to appear, just because you want them to.

As a kid, this drove me to work hard to create the opportunities to make changes I wanted to see in my life, and the world around me. The older I got, the more I learned about the world – the more difficult it seemed to create that change.

Peggy Zhang, MBA/MA SID'21, in a black commencement cap and gown in front of vines outdoors

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

I came to Heller to bridge these gaps in my knowledge and experiences, but I what I found was a community filled with people of different backgrounds, identities, and a wealth of knowledge that have 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 broadened my perspectives and increased my understanding of intricate systems. I have been guided by administrators and staff, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to meet the needs of myself and fellow students. And I have been humbled by fellow students, who showed such passion and intuition for advancing social justice causes, especially those in my MBA cohort.

My cohort voted me “Most likely to be seen at every Heller extracurricular event” – a title that I wear with pride. I’ve 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 said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

We faced the challenges and uncertainties of an ongoing pandemic, but I’ve seen compassion and encouragement as you lifted each other up and supported one another. We faced tough conversations about the realities of the racial inequities we see today, and I saw courage and conviction as you spoke your truths, and took collective actions to force systemic and systematic change 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 have reminded me that no matter how dauting 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 we knew in 2019 may never exist again, but you’ve shown me that you have what it takes to tackle societal problems we face – to create an even better world for the future.

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