MBA Commencement Speaker: Zari Havercome ’16, MBA/MA SID’22

May 22, 2022

Zari HavercomeGood morning graduates, parents, friends, family (given and chosen), the facilities team, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Advisors. Thank you for being here, to uplift and celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating class. 

My entire life, I have had a unique amount of self-determination. I distinctly remember, at 14 years old, I decided to plan out my life. I eventually came up with a detailed 10-step, 30-year plan to maximize my dreams to supporting the world. Not a bad plan for a teenager, huh?

It was that plan that brought me to pursue a Social Impact MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. I stand here to let you know that 14 years into my elaborate plan, I am completing step six today and I am still on track to accomplish the rest. 

While my tunnel-vision and very strategic personality may not relate to you, I invite you all to take a moment and think of your journey to this seat today. What was the catalyst that started your journey and brought you to this accomplishment? Now, thank yourself for being empowered to take each step that you took, and grow through each lesson you learned. 

While the graduates think about that, family, friends, faculty and staff, please consider your contributions to the graduates receiving their honors today. I also want to take a moment of silence for all the people who couldn’t be here today and honor their contributions as well. [SILENCE]

The road to social change is slow moving and emotionally taxing, so when you all find it weighing on you, I would like for you to remember something my parents taught me. That what you think matters; be thoughtful and intentional in expanding the way you think.

I learned this lesson at a young age when my dad stood me in the middle of a room and told me to look at everything around me. I looked at the clock on the wall, the dining table, the couch, the windows, etc., confused that this crazy man was keeping me from my cartoons. He told me that “everything I see, started as someone’s idea.” At the time, I thought: “okay?” but now I realize that he instilled in me that “the greatest power I have, is my ability to think.” 

However, having ideas is not enough. My mom expanded my father’s lesson with her own, supporting me to always “think in three dimensions,” that you should be thinking from as many angles and perspectives as possible. Challenge yourself to consider more than what is conveniently available. For us all, Heller has been the place for us to challenge how we think through critical dialogues, powerful rallies and protests, academic-informed activism, and more. We strengthened our thinking here. 

Let us add to the Heller alumni network who are, one by one, showing corporations how to meet the triple bottom line: where people and profit are complementary. Let us continue to create and advocate for equitable policies. Let us design sustainable systems that promote true coexistence by building a world where we are less threatened by what we don’t know and more willing to learn new things. Do not doubt that the world needs you! Not as saviors, but as models.

There are so many reasons to believe that you can’t accomplish what you set out to do, and knowing those realities and separating them from fears will do you a great service. However, do me this favor, as much time as you spend thinking of all the ways things could go wrong and you ask yourself over and over, “…But what if it doesn’t work out?” I want you to spend twice as much time asking yourself, “But what if it does?”  Because what you think matters and we are all awaiting what it is you have to say. Graduates, congratulations again. We did it!