As COVID-19 lingers in our communities, Emory’s 175th commencement required a huge twist on tradition. “Before Spring break, we prepared as usual, then Emory shifted to remote learning,” said Andrea Hershatter, senior associate dean and BBA director. “Suddenly, we had two weeks to get every element recorded, edited, and delivered. Faculty and staff worked tirelessly. They are to be commended for finding inside themselves the resilience to step up in ways to make this a joyful, uplifting experience for the students. I am so proud.”
Emory and Goizueta teamed up with Ideas United to craft a one-of-a-kind commencement that delivered a unique shared experience during a pivotal era in world history. “We never could have imagined how COVID-19 would affect our lives in such drastic ways,” said David Roemer 02BBA, co-founder and CEO of Ideas United. With deep Emory connections, Roemer and co-founders Dan Costa 01BBA, Vijay Makar 02BBA, along with their team of more than 85, dove into the project. “For the Emory students missing the opportunity to participate in traditional commencement celebrations, we knew we had to do something and fortunately have the capabilities to help provide an unforgettable solution for these graduates and their families. As Emory alumni, and storytellers, we’re honored to partner with such passionate Emory leaders and share our expertise to make this the most memorable commencement ceremony possible.”
Orchestrating a Virtual Success Required Strategic Planning
“The virtual programming that we delivered for the class of 2020 meant more to me than I can express in words,” said Brian Mitchell, associate dean for full-time MBA programs. “I was overcome with emotion on more than a few occasions when recording the ceremonies because I realized that we were trying to invoke the feelings that come along with accomplishing something so meaningful. It was much more than a transactional endeavor, just like the experience that we strive to deliver in our programs,” he explained. To properly honor graduates, “Being virtual meant that we needed to be more explicit about certain reflections and experiences, rather than rely on all the things that are implicit when you’re in a room filled with people. That caused me to double down on my appreciation for the class of 2020 – their entire experience, not just at the end.”
Planning was an all-hands effort across Goizueta. For Mitchell, “the most important aspect of my preparation for the virtual delivery was coaching our student speakers, Anne Arwood 20MBA and Catie Mannarino 20MBA, when they reached out for advice. We emphasized two things: telling their authentic story and finding ways to keep the audience engaged.” The result? “Amazing,” Mitchell said. “Their own words were heartwarming, and the special guests in each speech were as inspiring as they were hilarious. These moments are not about me. They are about the students. That is the preparation that I will remember.”
Goizueta teams rose to the challenge, creating a series of special celebrations for BBA graduates. Hershatter shared that although nothing can replace what she sincerely hopes will be an in-person celebration in the near future, for now, “the platform allowed us to provide not only recorded content comprising a full Honors and Awards Celebration, but also a real-time Coke toast and post commencement Zoom-ception so that we had the chance to actually interact. Additionally, uploaded memories and Y/Our moment content was so terrific that it may be something we will try to replicate in the future. Through use of technology we gained value that would not otherwise have existed.”
Hershatter’s team worked with elected Class Orator Juan Pablo Sabillón 20BBA who recorded his address from his home in Honduras and with Catherine Xu 18OX 20BBA, BBA Council President, who remotely delivered the time-honored Coke toast. For Hershatter, an unexpected “aha moment” came during preparations when she saw the outpouring of support. “We asked faculty and staff to record congratulatory videos,” she said. “Forty people took the time to don regalia, create poems, provide metaphors, sing parodies and so much more for our students. It was phenomenal.”
This year’s commencement was especially poignant for Jessica Lowy, assistant dean of advising and academic affairs, who has worked with many of the graduates for four years. “We’ve watched them grow in so many ways during their time at Emory and Goizueta, and their graduation is bittersweet,” she said. “The virtual receptions we planned after each program component provided the opportunity for us to have the type of intimate, informal interactions with students and their families that typically occur during our in-person events on Patterson Green. Those are moments in which we get to share our mutual pride in and celebrate the successes of our accomplished graduates.”
Xu led the Coke toast to a virtual audience of her peers who stood by at home with Cokes at the ready. “These past two years at Goizueta have been the truest testament to how resilient and how compassionate we are, how creative we are in our efforts, and in our relationships,” she said. “I had a hunch during orientation, but now I know with confidence that wherever we go, we will always bring a little piece of Goizueta, and there, we will continue to transform places into communities, communities we will also call home.”
Strong Messages Inspire Graduates
“We’ve risen to the challenge in a global pandemic. Through dedication, hard work, innovation, and grit, we have reached this point together: your graduation day,” said Dean Erika James, in her address to the graduates.
James continued, “While this is a moment of celebration, I know it is also a time of anxiety for some of you. But you can rest assured of a few things. One, is that this moment will not last forever, but what will last are your experiences, here, in the community you helped to build and the knowledge and skills that you’ve gained. Your Goizueta business degree is more valuable than ever today.
“It is a time of great challenge, but with that comes great opportunity. It is a time for us to adapt, to change, to be innovative, and to think creatively. Times like these define a leader and determine whether an organization thrives or dies. It is our mission to prepare principal leaders to have positive influence on business and society. I believe we have instilled within you during your time at Goizueta not only the knowledge to be effective in your chosen career, but the principal leadership skills and broader perspectives that will set you apart from others and serve you throughout your life.”
“The class of 2020 is in the business of bursting bubbles,” noted BBA Class Orator Sabillón. “What I want to celebrate in our community is that diversity of purpose. Although it is deep within us, although it is different, although it is constantly changing, everywhere we go we will take our purpose with us,” Sabillón said. “As we enter a tumultuous world, striving for much needed change in health, government, finance, and truly all sectors of society, we know that only our purpose can save us. Living through an unprecedented pandemic, COVID-19, taught us all one lesson. In an ever-changing world, nothing is promised. But one thing that we knew regardless is the magnitude of the loving bond we share at Goizueta.”
In closing, Dean James offered this invitation to graduates. “Stay in touch. Share your successes, both personal and professional, with us. Come back and share with a new generation of students, the knowledge, expertise, and experiences you gain. And as always, know that you have a home at Goizueta.”
No matter where life takes you, update your personal and professional information, share a class note, connect with classmates and alumni here. Follow and interact with Goizueta, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Relive all of your commencement memories here.