MBA Commencement Speakers on Overcoming Obstacles: Race, Gender, Mobility

Student speakers Álvaro Silberstein and Tiffany Barbour spoke of overcoming obstacles and gaining the confidence to achieve the impossible at the Berkeley MBA Commencement held at the Greek Theatre last Friday.

Alvaro Silberstein, MBA 17, was confined to a wheelchair as a teenager. He left his support system in Chile to pursue an MBA at Haas.
Álvaro Silberstein, MBA 17

Classmates and friends—among a crowd of 500 Full-time and Evening & Weekend graduating MBA students—chanted “Álvaro” as Silberstein, MBA 17, wheeled to the podium to speak in the warmth of the midday sun. Silberstein, MBA 17, who was paralyzed as a teenager in his native Chile, spoke of the fear he felt in leaving behind his supports for the first time to pursue an MBA at Berkeley.

Overcoming barriers

Despite challenges like steep hills and the initial language barrier, he said he felt his fears melt at Haas. “We have shared our most intimate stories, in Leadership Communications class or Story Salon, showing who we really are, and what we have passed through,” he said. “This community pushes everyone to show our most authentic version of ourselves, accepting our differences, our weaknesses and beliefs.”

Last December, Silberstein trekked an iconic route through Patagonia’s Torres Del Paine National Park with a team, including classmate Matan Sela, also MBA 17. Silberstein’s startup, Wheel the World, left a trekking wheelchair behind at the national park, which has already been used by three people. “This place, this program, has transformed all of us, by giving us the tools and the confidence to achieve impossibilities,” he said in his MBA commencement speech.

Tiffany Barbour, EWMBA 17
Tiffany Barbour, EWMBA 17

No “I can’ts” in sight

Barbour, EWMBA 17, an engineer who works in management at Genentech, recalled an encounter 17 years ago when her eighth grade science teacher told her parents that she had neither the aptitude nor the determination to excel in the sciences.

“I was crushed—not because I believed him. I mean, I stand before you an engineer at arguably the best biotech in the world. No, I was crushed because in that moment I realized that there are likely other people in the world who viewed me the way that he did.”

From that moment on, Barbour said her academic career has been “molded by defiance–defiance of the artificial limitation forced upon me by those who were either unable or unwilling to see past my gender or the color of my skin.”

“My dreams, my aspirations—they’re the fire in my soul,” she said. “The words ‘you can’t,’ well, that’s just like fanning the flames with oxygen. It just makes those flames grow.”

When Barbour arrived at Haas three years ago, she asked the question: What do I want to be when I grow up?

“Every workshop, every class, every conversation opened up a world of new possibilities,” she said. “I could be a consultant, an entrepreneur, a strategist, a product manager, a financial analyst. I could be president of the United States. I could be anything. And there were no ‘you can’ts’ in sight.”

Dean Rich Lyons congratulates MBA graduates
Dean Rich Lyons


Dean Rich Lyons (above) spoke of the transformation students make during their time at Haas.

“You have learned a tremendous amount about yourselves and each other, and you’ve built connections for a lifetime,” he said. “Many of you have transformed your career trajectories or your roles within your organizations. More than a few of you are creating new ventures. All of you have been transformed in some way.”

Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez, MBA 84
Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez, MBA 84

Purpose, Pathway, People

Commencement speaker Joe Jimenez, MBA 84 and CEO of Novartis (above), spoke of three things he wanted graduates to remember:

  • Purpose: “In your post-business school life, one of the most important things you can do is find a workplace with a purpose that you believe in,” Jimenez said.
  • Pathway: “Many of you will want to over-engineer everything in your life. But resist this. Sometimes the best things in life happen TO you.”
  • People: “No matter how good you are, you can’t achieve success without a strong team around you.”

Full-time MBA award winners


Full-time MBA

  • Question the Status Quo: Patrick Ford
  • Confidence Without Attitude: Hadiatou Barry
  • Students Always: Eddie Gandevia
  • Beyond Yourself: Neha Kumar
  • The Berkeley Leader Award: Kelly Allena Deutermann & Derek Kenmotsu  
  • Outstanding Academic Performance: Thaddeus Robert Stebbins

Evening & Weekend MBA award winners 2017

Evening & Weekend MBA

  • Question the Status Quo: Amrit Sinha
  • Confidence Without Attitude: Andrew Hening
  • Students Always: Alicea Wu
  • Beyond Yourself: Diane Chiang
  • The Berkeley Leader Award: Zen Menon
  • Outstanding Academic Performance: John Delacruz & Elisa Radice

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching

  • Full-time MBA: Prof. Omri Even Tov
  • EWMBA (Weekend): Prof. Maximilian Auffhammer
  • EWMBA (Evening): Prof. Panos Patatoukas

Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors

  • Full-time MBA: Alexander Evangelides
  • Evening & Weekend MBA: Laura Boudreau & Henry Laurion


Undergraduate Commencement: “A Sikh’s Speech to Unite the World