A Token of Appreciation: McDonough Delivers Georgetown’s First NFT to the Class of 2020

James Azar and Julian Oquendo, MBA students.
Julian Oquendo (MBA'23) and James Azar (MBA'23). Photo credit: Swift Studios.

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The future of digital commemoration has arrived at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) coin, which will be gifted to all undergraduate alumni in the Class of 2020 during their commencement reception on May 28. 

Georgetown McDonough’s Undergraduate Program partnered with two MBA students, Julian Oquendo (MBA’23) and James Azar (MBA’23), to create a first-of-its-kind gift to recognize the resiliency and strength of the Class of 2020. 

As the world explores the future of NFTs, digital currencies, and their evolving role in business, Georgetown McDonough embarked on an innovative venture to recognize the accomplishments of the Class of 2020 while playing an active role in how business schools engage with trends and innovations in this space.

The Makings of a Digital Coin

As the world grappled with the first few months of the pandemic, the Class of 2020 finished their classes online, celebrated commencement virtually, and started their new professional careers in remote and hybrid environments. They persevered through an immense period of transition, and now, nearly two years after earning their degrees, they will return to campus for a well-deserved celebration in honor of their achievements. 

Understanding the significance of this moment, members of the Georgetown McDonough community wanted to ensure this was a memorable occasion for the Class of 2020.

Patricia Grant, senior associate dean of the Undergraduate Program
Patricia Grant, senior associate dean of the Undergraduate Program

“After everything the world has gone through and certainly after what the Class of 2020 had to endure at the conclusion of their college career, I really wanted to create something unique and special for them to remember their time on the Hilltop,” said Patricia Grant, senior associate dean of the Undergraduate Program. “We started brainstorming a class gift to memorialize this moment for them – something that could become a physical representation of their journey at Georgetown, like a coin.”

Grant began the process of designing a commemorative coin for the Class of 2020. But while the coin iterations were underway, she had a realization – what if the coin could be converted into an NFT?

This initial concept soon made its way to two first-year MBA students, Oquendo and Azar, who already were exploring web3 options in higher education through their startup, Reservoir. 

“We are seeing strong adoption of NFTs and cryptocurrency, specifically with digital art, and there are so many opportunities for this technology to be applied in the enterprise,” said Azar. “We had originally approached MBA Dean Prashant Malaviya with the idea for an NFT diploma, so it was perfect timing when we were introduced to Dean Grant to discuss an NFT for the Class of 2020.”

After their initial conversation with Grant, Azar and Oquendo took the initiative to design the first NFT to be issued by a university – an endeavor that took over three months to complete. 

“We wanted to help the Undergraduate Program create a gift that has greater utility beyond the physical usage of a class coin,” said Oquendo. “This was a great way to combine our knowledge and capabilities in this space, pilot this idea of using digital credentials in university settings, and recognize the Class of 2020 for their accomplishments at Georgetown.”

The NFT coin serves as a digital twin of the physical “2020 Challenge Coin” gift, which will be distributed in person at the Class of 2020 commencement reception. The digital collection will be launched on Polygon, which is a proof-of-stake blockchain dedicated to environmental sustainability, and transferred to the graduates’ digital wallets on commencement day. 

Go Forth and Set the World on Fire

2020 Challenge Coin, designed by John LaRue, Art Director, Georgetown University; converted into a 3D rendering by Reservoir

The coin itself is designed to represent St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose combination of spirituality and pedagogy provides the foundation for the values inherent in the mission of Georgetown University.

“During our students’ time at Georgetown, we ask them to constantly pursue Magis, the Latin word for ‘more’, which encourages them to do more and be more for the world,” said Grant. “We hope the presence of St. Ignatius on their class coin is a challenge to always seek more and do more for others – to go forth and set the world on fire.” 

The back of the coin depicts a photo of the Rafik B. Hariri Building, which represents the physical space of their home while on the Hilltop as well as a reminder of the people who shaped their experiences as business students. 

Each member of the Class of 2020 will receive both a physical and digital keepsake of the Challenge Coin, which Grant hopes will serve as a token of appreciation and a source of inspiration and commitment to lifelong learning. 

“Not only are we providing the Class of 2020 with a valuable collectible, but also are inviting our recent alumni to seek out new opportunities to learn and grow as business leaders,” said Grant. “The value of learning new things, of adopting new technologies, exploring new ways of existing in the world, particularly in their chosen field of business, is important. Our exploration into NFTs recognizes their milestone and reinforces our commitment to continuous education, adaptability, and innovation.” 

A Digital Credentials Business Model

Innovation is the foundation of Oquendo’s and Azar’s new startup, which aims to expand the prevalence and applicability of NFTs in the education sector. Their company will serve as a platform to help higher education institutions strengthen their digital relationship with students and alumni.

“If universities are going to remain competitive in the world of business, technology, and the intersection of those, they need to have perspective on web3 and its applications. We believe the best way to gain this perspective is to actually utilize and engage in this new space,” said Oquendo. “We want to create a platform that allows institutions such as Georgetown to easily adopt and scale this technology, whether they want to issue diplomas and certificates or commemorate an event.”

The MBA duo used the Georgetown NFT as a pilot project to test their business concepts, which they plan to refine this summer as a part of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Summer Launch Incubator

“Most universities struggle with activating their alumni base, creating a downstream impact on the institution’s financial position and ranking,” said Azar. “We aim to capture the community-building aspect that’s intrinsic to web3 and apply it to this problem. We’re confident that by strengthening the digital relationship with students and alumni, universities can increase both alumni participation and admission yield rates. We look forward to proving our hypothesis this summer as we start expanding to other institutions.”

Looking to the Future

The Class of 2020 will participate in commencement exercises and a reception celebration on Saturday, May 28, to honor their time at Georgetown McDonough. In addition to receiving the physical and digital coins, the undergraduate alumni also will receive ongoing education about how to best leverage their new NFTs, as well as professional development support from The Grand, a company founded by alumna Anita Hossein (B’07). The alumni also have the opportunity to leverage ongoing career support and a young alumni mentorship program from Georgetown McDonough. 

“The Class of 2020 is an inspiration to all of us, and as members of the Hoya community, we know that each of them will go on and do magnificent things because when change happens, you are changed,” said Grant. “I am confident they will rise to the challenge, and we’re excited to see what’s next for them.”

To learn more about the Class of 2020 commencement exercises, visit https://commencement2020.georgetown.edu/