Joyful tears, student and faculty awards, an Air Force Major participating remotely from Africa, and a “love letter” played key roles in the graduation last Saturday of a class of 69 students in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program.
About 450 people gathered at Zellerbach Hall for the graduation ceremonies, which included opening remarks from Dean Rich Lyons and a special honor for Distinguished Teaching Fellow, Maura O’Neill, BCMBA 04, who received the Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching.
O’Neill, a serial entrepreneur and investor, worked as President Obama’s Chief Innovation Officer in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has started four companies, and guided innumerable others. She is also a graduate of the BCEMBA program, and increasingly committed to teaching at Haas, where she taught New Venture Finance and Advanced New Venture Finance to the graduating EMBA class.
“We are lucky to have her”
Mike Rielly, assistant dean and executive director of the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, said O’Neill’s contributions in and out of the classroom are remarkable.
“Maura brings a special blend of academic theory and real-world credibility, teaches from a place of encouragement and empowerment, and has been so incredibly helpful to our students on matters ranging from personal and professional advice to negotiating new venture terms,” he said. “We are lucky to have her at Berkeley-Haas and teaching so regularly in the EMBA program.”
Accounting Lecturer Suneel Udpa received the first Berkeley-Haas Lifetime Achievement Award, a new honor championed by the graduating EMBA class.
“His love of teaching is infectious and his love for students is deeply felt,” said Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction. “He has transformed the way students think and made them better, more well-rounded individuals.” In a touching slideshow, Udpa, who is currently not able to speak due to recent surgery, shared a few humorous life lessons with the students.
In his commencement speech, entrepreneur Jon Sebastiani, BCEMBA 11, noted that Berkeley-Haas business leaders leave the school with a sense of shared responsibility.
“It was at Berkeley-Haas that my main focus and concern shifted from one of helping ‘me, me’ to one of contributing to the ‘us, us,”’ said Sebastiani, who recently launched Sonoma Brands, an incubator that will develop new consumer packaged foods brands. Sebastiani founded Krave Jerky while at Haas, and last year sold it to Hershey.
Questioning the status quo
Student speaker Karin Lion, EMBA 15, read a “love letter,” thanking classmates for helping her to question her own status quo. “It was in this challenging of myself and opening up to you where I discovered my self-confidence, to appreciate my authentic self in all its flaws, to view my mistakes as humbling lessons, to take risks, to hone and own my vision.”
Class president and valedictorian Richard Wilson shared the personal sacrifices and the endurance required to successfully complete and thrive in the EMBA program.
While noting the importance of pushing perceived personal limits, he acknowledged the key role that families, fellow students, and work colleagues played in this transformational experience.
Richard concluded: “This is a time to remind ourselves of what’s important…remember who we are and be glad for who we have become. Let’s reconnect and get ready for our next journey.”
Rielly and Jamie Breen, EMBA’s director of strategic planning and operations, presented the annual Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles Awards:
Question The Status Quo: Karin Lion
Confidence Without Attitude: Robert Ford and Matthew Estes
Students Always: Min Xiao
Beyond Yourself: Lucky Sandhu
The Fifth Principle, an award unique to EMBA, for students who embody all four defining principles and choose graciousness in every area of their lives: Sean Campbell and Julia Felts
At the ceremony’s end came a touching surprise.
US Air Force Major Eric Shanley, who was deployed to Africa last November, appeared on a large screen, joining the group by Skype to receive his degree from Dean Lyons.
Shanley, who received a standing ovation, congratulated and thanked the Class of 2015.