Tight-Knit Class of 2016 Graduates from Berkeley MBA for Executives Program


EMBA students heading to commencement.
EMBA students heading across campus to commencement.

Words of wisdom, honors, heartfelt stories, and a musical performance by Haas Dean Rich Lyons marked the Berkeley MBA for Executives (EMBA) commencement last Saturday.

About 400 people attended the ceremony for the 69 Class of 2016 graduates at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. Many of the commencement speeches focused on the power of relationships forged among the class members.

“This was a special class for many reasons,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean and executive director of the EMBA program. “As a group, they were all so close-knit, supportive, and truly connected—helping each other navigate the program and succeed in so many ways, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

From “They do that” to “I do that”

During the 19-month program, students dove into five week-long immersion programs, which comprise 25 percent of the curriculum. The immersion courses are led by Haas faculty on location: leadership communications in Napa Valley with Mark Rittenberg, entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley with Toby Stuart, applied innovation in San Francisco with Sara Beckman, pricing in Singapore with Teck Ho, and business and policy in Washington DC with Maura O’Neill.

Dean Rich Lyons said that UC Berkeley and Haas transformed the students by enabling them to do things they didn’t realize were possible, creating a shift from thinking “They do that” to “I do that.”

“These transformations are possible because of how and what you’ve learned here about leadership. In short, you have become Berkeley Leaders,” he said.

Dean Lyons addresses the class.
Dean Lyons addresses the class.

Commencement speaker Tim Campos, BCEMBA 11, and the former CIO of Facebook, told students that they were graduating with far more than a degree. “An MBA is not about achieving a degree, a title, a credential, it’s about what you’ve learned,” he said. “It’s about the relationships you’ve built, and most of all, it’s about how it changes who you are. This program has given you a tremendous set of gifts. The gifts you’ve received have only just begun to pay dividends.”

Student Speaker Matt Kleinman recounted the exact point when he felt the class come together: Midway through the Leadership Communications Immersion, class members were asked to get up and dance, imitating the moves of the person who came before them. “One by one, with the people who you might characterize as quieter members of the class, you could see the insecurities melt away as they were received with love and support. What I saw was a desire to show each and every classmate that they belonged that they were accepted and they were loved. That love, belonging, and acceptance has grown stronger each day.”

We did this!

Class valedictorian Chris Sampson, who earned a 3.957 GPA, highlighted how the class shared deep stories, shed tears, and learned about how strong relationships led to success in business. “I would not be standing here today if it weren’t for my teammates. WE did this. Just as we stood together throughout this program, it only feels right to me that we stand together as we formally end it.” Sampson then called his teammates’ names and asked each person to stand.

(L-R) Chris Sampson, Torsor Kotee, and Josh Goldsmith
(L-R) Chris Sampson, Torsor Kotee, and Josh Goldsmith

Awards then went to faculty and students. Maura O’Neill, a distinguished teaching fellow and Haas entrepreneurship lecturer who organized this year’s immersion trip to Washington D.C., received the Earl F. Cheit Award for the second time. The award, named for the late Dean Emeritus Earl Cheit, was established in 1975 and is granted by the students for excellence in teaching.

 “Maura is inspiring, transparent and selfless in all things—sharing herself so that we can all learn through her experiences and extended network of really exceptionally smart people,” Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean for instruction said, reading a comment shared by an EMBA student about O’Neill.

O’Neill started four companies and worked as former President Barack Obama’s USAID chief innovation officer before teaching at Haas. She was heading to the Sundance Film Festival after the ceremony, where a documentary about a charter school for girls she helped found in Baltimore was premiering.

And the awards go to….

Auyon Siddiqq received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor award for his work in Greg LaBlanc’s Data & Decisions Course.

The Defining Principles Awards, presented by Breen and former EMBA executive director Mike Rielly, CEO of the Berkeley Executive Education, went to:

·      Confidence without Attitude: Harold Allen

·      Question the Status Quo: Mercedes Broening

·      Beyond Yourself: Cristy Johnston-Limon

·      Students Always: Mark Gorenflo