At MBA convocation, stories of close calls, perseverance, and humility

More than 400 MIT Sloan graduates celebrate and reflect on next moves

June 6, 2014

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein with class gift co-chair Dina Kazzaz and student speaker Priyank Mathur

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein with class gift co-chair Dina Kazzaz and student speaker Priyank Mathur

When Priyank Mathur made an emergency landing on his way home to Boston from a trip to Brazil, he started to see answers to the big questions.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the other people in my life,” he told his classmates June 5 at MIT Sloan’s MBA and Leaders for Global Operations convocation ceremony at the Wang Theatre in Boston. “Suddenly the only thing that mattered to me was how they would remember me. What kind of difference had I made or not made on their lives?”

That flight, which featured the dreaded “We are losing cabin pressure” statement from the crew, eventually landed safely in Delaware. Mathur, though, had more to think about.

“The only life worth living is one that makes other lives better,” he said. “We’re lucky, those of us who are graduating today, because we will have that chance.”

Speakers at the convocation ceremony honoring the 407 graduates of the Class of 2014 shared a common theme, with each acknowledging the good fortunes and accompanying responsibilities of its graduates. Mathur recalled the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession and called on his classmates to lead the business and finance worlds to a new era of trustworthiness and corporate citizenship. As MIT Sloan graduates, he said, they are trained problem-solvers.

“We can do much more than just watch,” he said.

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein also urged the Class of 2014 to focus its skills and experience on solving significant global problems.

“You’re not only talented, you’re privileged,” Schmittlein said. “You’re privileged because of the talent you brought to MIT. And you’re privileged because of the capabilities … that you developed at MIT Sloan.”

Schmittlein recognized the Class of 2014’s interest in hands-on action learning, cultivated through the school’s treks, tours, and action learning labs. He welcomed the graduates to the network of MIT alumni around the world. He also accepted a class gift of more than $280,000. The gift, presented by Dina Kazzaz, MBA ’14, will be contributed to the MIT Sloan Annual Fund. The Class of 2014 has until June 30 to contribute to the gift. Already, Schmittlein said, it has “destroyed the old records” for giving by an outgoing class.

Graduates were also addressed by Joaquin E. Bacardi III, MBA ’98, the president and CEO of Bacardi Corporation, the spirits manufacturer. Bacardi talked about perseverance, discussing how his family kept its company alive after fleeing Cuba following the Cuban Revolution. He talked, as well, of humility, sharing that he once took a mid-level job at Nestlé only to realize he knew much less than he should about business and management. He later enrolled at MIT Sloan.

Bacardi encouraged graduates to take risks outside of their comfort zones while remaining humble.

“Don’t be a spectator,” he said. “Get in the arena. Get your hands dirty in the trenches of life.” With an MIT Sloan education, he said, they have new opportunities, skills, and abilities to succeed in and improve the world.

“Sloan put my career on a different trajectory,” he said. “As they would say in our finance class, it changes our planning horizon.”