MBA Commencement Speaker: Ashley Robinson, MBA/MA SID’24

May 20, 2024

Ashley Robinson, MBA/MA SID'24, in graduation cap and gown

To our families, friends, and mentors, you’ll hear “thank you” many times this weekend, and let me add another because it is truly deserved. I am proud to share the stage with all of our graduating program speakers, and as a dual degree student, especially my brilliant and always stylish SID classmate, Fabiola.

To my Dean: She allows students to call her Maria, but I never seemed to be able to drop the honorific, because Dean Maria Madison, it has been an honor to be under your leadership and receive your words of wisdom and encouragement. While so many speak of your strength, which is ever so evident, it has been your vulnerability, your commitment to students, your vision for what could be even in the murkiness of what is, that has carried many of us through troubled waters.

They say it’s all about who you know. I used to resent that idiom, thinking, “Why don’t my merits qualify me to walk into rooms on my own?” But we do nothing in this world alone, and we have the group projects under our belts to prove it. Heller showed me it is all about who you know. But when others say it they mean finding the people hoarding power. What will truly make a difference in your trajectory is about who you know who values collaboration over competition. It is about who you know who doesn’t see humanity as an afterthought. It is about who you know that when faced with inequity, chooses to take on the challenge of change.

With recent changes, we have heard there won’t be any more MBA students like us, but I’d say there were never any like us before. From labor organizing to strategic philanthropy to community-led development, our interests are varied, but we all share a vision of using business principles to better society.

We are defining the field of social impact, but we as practitioners will never fit in a single box. Many of us have been asked, what does knowing debits on the left, credits on the right have to do with making the world a better place? There isn’t a Nobel Peace Prize for Accounting, after all. Well, business skills matter to monitor liquidity for a startup social enterprise providing low-cost technical assistance to farmers, or leading a Fortune 500 company in divesting from genocide, or strengthening the financial health of a native-led climate change organization.

To address today’s complex social issues, we need unique intersections that blend inquiry and research with community voice and sustainable application. I have witnessed you all carve, sculpt, and collage to create a masterful Heller we can be proud of for generations. Each unique perspective and informed approach has been displayed in startup challenges, field projects, and capstones. As each of you continues your journey, I wish you all the courage to passionately pursue change and continue to be someone people should know.

In closing, I speak to all of my classmates, because no matter which program, we are all one Heller. It is now our duty, as instructed by Toni Morrison, to free somebody else and as we assume positions of power, to empower somebody else. Perhaps reframed through the teachings of Dr. Piñeros-Shields, as we birth our power let us in turn be midwives for others’ power. From Michigan to Myanmar, from Newton to Nigeria, from Boston to Buenos Aires, Heller has provided us with knowledge and now, it is our turn to advance social justice.