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TIAA-CREF CEO Challenges Graduates to Become Inspirational Leaders

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As some 450 graduates from the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business MBA, Executive MBA, and Executive Master’s in Leadership programs prepared to receive their diplomas, TIAA-CREF President and CEO Roger Ferguson urged them to continue their educational endeavors even after earning today’s degree.

“Continuous learning happens everywhere, not only in the classroom,” said Ferguson, who also received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Georgetown University during the ceremony. “It is critically important that you commit yourself on this commencement day to your next phase of lifelong learning.”

Ferguson also suggested that the notion of a career ladder is outdated, instead advising graduates to be ready to pivot to achieve their goals.

“Think of your career as more of a climbing wall,” he said. “Sometimes you may need to move sideways, or even down. Sometimes you may need to move to the left or the right in order to reach your goal. And, sometimes you may need to adjust the goal itself.”

Ferguson also discussed how popular trust in CEOs and government leaders is at a low, but that an influx of new, strong leaders has the opportunity to meet today’s most pressing challenges and shape a better future.

“I challenge you to take what you have learned here at McDonough and become the kind of leaders who set the right tone and inspire people to follow – the kinds of people whose actions rebuild trust in our global institutions,” he said.

As the leader of a major financial services company, Ferguson also asked the graduates to take control of their financial literacy.

“We know that if you don’t have financial well-being, it’s much harder to make an impact on the world. The desire to be a virtuous leader, the ability to comfortably climb up and down the wall, to change your goals – they are all founded on the ability to be financially literate,” said Ferguson, who also is the former vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Ferguson also challenged the graduates to realize how they can each make a positive difference.

“You will leave these grounds with a highly prestigious credential, a broad expanse of knowledge, and a wealth of experiences that have prepared you to lead and have a significant impact,” he said. “Now, the question you face is: What are you going to do with all that you have to offer the world?”

In his remarks, Georgetown McDonough Dean David A. Thomas also asked the graduates to seek out ways to benefit society.

“Our world needs you now, more than ever,” he said. “Just looking at a few of the headlines from the past year shows why you – graduates of the McDonough School of Business, whose skill set includes principled leadership, a global mindset, and a commitment to serving both business and society – are poised to make a difference.”

After discussing business challenges ranging from the government sequestration to the implications of the factory collapse in Bangladesh, Thomas told the graduates that he is optimistic about the future because he is confident in them.

“We live in a time where the greatest opportunities to improve life on our planet call forth the brand of leadership that you represent. Not simply to avoid calamities, but to create new ways of doing, new ways of knowing, and new ways of engaging with one another,” he said. “These opportunities lie at the intersection of markets and business and the needs of society.”

During the ceremony, the valedictorians and salutatorians of each program were recognized. They were Shreeshant Prabhakaran and Dinh Ton for the Full-time MBA Program, Juan Bonifacino and Oz Tolon for the MBA Evening Program, Herb Shatzen and Rahul Jindal for the Executive MBA Program, and Bryon Vincent and Tycely Williams for the Executive Master’s in Leadership Program.

Graduates from each program reflected on what the day meant to them. 

Jennifer Badger Stojanovich, who earned an MBA, found the day to be bittersweet. 

“I have met some lifelong friends here, I have met future millionaires and moguls, and I feel like I have just scratched the surface of what I do not know yet in business, leadership, and entrepreneurship,” she said. “I'm one of the many Georgetown grads who will move halfway around the world right after graduation, and I know that Georgetown’s unique combination of global programming and vast alumni network are going to serve me very well in the years to come, regardless of which continent I find myself on."

Kristin Keen, a graduating Executive MBA student, has done this before, having earned a B.A. from Georgetown in 2004. Ten years later, she is excited to reconnect with her alma mater.

“I chose Georgetown as a teenager because of the rigor, prestige, and opportunity it promised. I chose Georgetown as I closed in on my 30s because it felt like coming home,” she said.

Tycely Williams, a graduate of the Executive Master’s in Leadership program, sees the day as a new beginning.

“Commencement is a remarkable occasion. It is a momentous day to proudly share past academic achievements with classmates, family and friends,” she said. “While seemingly the excitement centers on the past, for the graduate the excitement signals an enthusiasm for the future. Commencement is not the end. Commencement is the beginning. As graduates of the distinguished McDonough School of Business, we are eager to enhance business operations, launch new ventures, and more effectively lead teams.”