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At MBA convocation, celebrating the value in difference and diversity

Addressing her fellow graduates at convocation June 2, MIT Sloan student speaker Caitlin Fitzgerald Dolkart remembered arriving on campus slightly above the average age of her classmates and not knowing what a hashtag was. She felt different, even among students who had their own differences.

“The difference manifested itself as an insecurity,” Dolkart said. “I remember wondering what I was doing here. I remember being tempted to say ‘me too’ when classmates were talking about regression models, derivatives, and Game of Thrones. I still don’t know what any of that means.”

“Classrooms and companies have a way of making us think we need to conform,” she said. “I mean, look at us, we’re wearing regalia — it’s not that attractive.”

“We came to Sloan knowing we were different, and this wasn’t any business school,” she said. “This was a business school that valued having people from all backgrounds and all experiences. … That has to be something that we continue to remind ourselves. To value our voices, to value our divergent ideas, and to proudly represent our differences.”

Dolkart arrived at MIT Sloan following work with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Africa, where she gained insights into the challenges of accessing health care throughout the continent. While at Sloan, she focused on a venture called Flare, an “Uber for ambulances” connecting patients with emergency services and connecting ambulances to hospitals while the patient in en route.

“The two words I would have used to describe my career prior to Sloan [were] ‘luck’ and ‘hardworking,’” Dolkart said. “I was damn lucky to get my first job after college. I graduated pre-med and pretty lost. I somehow got a job in health care consulting, and I was lucky when the Clinton Foundation just so happened to be looking for health care consultants.”

“But today, I add the word ‘advantage’,” she said, and noted her ability to turn a brief introduction with an investor into a pitch opportunity and a meeting with President Obama in Africa, by virtue of her MIT credential. “The possibilities in front of us didn’t exist prior to our coming here,” she said. “There are doors that are open that we didn’t know existed. There are jobs we didn’t know even existed.”

“Societal change takes more,” Hammond tells students

The convocation ceremony, held at the Wang Theatre in Boston, honored 344 graduates of MIT Sloan’s MBA program and 50 graduates of its Leaders For Global Operations program.

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein presented alumna Jean Hammond, SM ’86, with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Leadership. Hammond is co-founder and partner at LearnLaunch — an accelerator of digital technologies in education — and a longtime angel investor with a focus on startups run by women. Schmittlein introduced her saying she “has done more for women entrepreneurs and women angel investors than perhaps any other angel investor.”

Hammond focused her remarks on her work at LearnLaunch, a support system for entrepreneurs modeled after the MIT ecosystem, bringing together stakeholders to address educational gaps domestically and around the world.

“I did not come here by being a major corporate player or a captain of industry,” she said. “My path has been through the world of startups, to the world of angel investing, and I’ve learned to have impact by shaping the ecosystem where innovation occurs.”

“For me, in the early 2000s as an angel investor, I was frequently the only woman check writer in a room of 60 or so guys,” she said. She helped design a national organization spurring investment in startups where the senior management had at least one woman. “Diverse teams make better decisions, and that idea is well supported,” she said.

“Investing in women entrepreneurs motivated more women investors,” she said. “Many women had very successful careers, but no experience in investing. We needed to develop training to help new investors learn to evaluate and guide startups.”

“Business model innovation transforms industries, but affecting societal change takes more,” she said. “For that, I hope both you and I can seek out and collaborate with diverse groups who bring the creative intelligence required.”

“Thanks to your time at Sloan, you realize that with very powerful business technique, you need to add one more key ingredient,” Hammond said. “You need to add your principles. Your leadership can shape and define how the game is played and who is on the playing field.”

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