Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

School of Business ceremony celebrates students’ strength and resilience

"While we cannot be together in person to clap and cheer for one another until our hands are sore and our voices are hoarse, take pride in knowing that you are amongst an incredible group of graduates," says School of Business 2020 Commencement speaker Carissa Gerry '20 in a joint ceremony celebrating the School’s Classes of 2020 and 2021. "A group that has faced—and overcome—some of the most difficult and unprecedented challenges in modern times. We are unified by our mutual success and enriched by our individual accolades." (Photo by Eric Whedbee)

On May 1, the University of Redlands School of Business congratulated 983 graduates—542 from the Class of 2020 and 441 from the Class of 2021—during the final virtual ceremony of Commencement Weekend.

Both classes were celebrated together due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of last year’s ceremony. Senecal Endowed Dean Thomas Horan delivered remarks at the beginning of the event, which was held virtually to ensure the health and safety of participants and compliance with State and County public health regulations.

After thanking students for their hard work, both academically and professionally, during an unusual year, Horan offered words of optimism. “We, as a school,” he said, “have infinite hope in you and the positive impact you will make as you take your education to advance as a person, in your career, and as a responsible citizen of our world. Thank you for believing in us and allowing us to play a positive role in your development as a person and as a professional.”

Strength, tenacity, and decorum

Carissa Gerry ’20, who graduated with an MBA, delivered the address for the Class of 2020. In her remarks, she spoke about the challenges that students faced before the pandemic—balancing work, school, and home lives—that were only compounded by a global public health crisis. Still, she offered words of hope to her classmates. Here are excerpts from her speech:

“While I cannot deliver this speech to an audience of smiling faces, I hope this virtual delivery can remind you to take immense pride in what you have achieved.

What we have all achieved is far beyond academic excellence. We have managed to balance our personal, professional, and academic lives. At times, life seemed rather imbalanced, especially when we studied late into the night or canceled plans to finish an assignment. Or, when we made the sudden transition to online-based learning in our final courses.

I want to thank all of our family, friends, and loved ones for understanding the sacrifices we as students have had to make in order to complete our respective degree programs. All of the support you offered along the way is sincerely appreciated.

There is no one-size-fits-all success story amongst our graduating class, and that is the true beauty of our commencement.

Two years ago, I would never have thought I would be delivering a speech, especially not one of such significance. Public speaking is not ordinarily something I would pursue. As a child, I was painfully shy; as a young adult, reserved. However, one thing has remained unchanged throughout my life, and that has been the pursuit of academic excellence. Earning my master’s degree bears such great personal meaning to me that I wanted to commemorate it by stepping outside of my comfort zone and onto this virtual graduation stage. As the first college graduate in my family and, too, the first to pursue graduate school, my academic journey serves as inspiration for my nieces and all future generations to come.

Two years ago, I never would have selected a seat in the front of a classroom by choice, or confidently participated in class discussions.

And here I am today standing before you, both humbled and honored, having done all of these things. The University of Redlands provided me with an education that challenged me to my very core; thanks to the faculty and my amazing peers, I have built up the confidence and courage to pursue opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom, regardless of how out of reach they seem. I am no longer afraid of hearing the word “no”—I am afraid of the disappointment I will feel if I do not try. I learned to embrace my appetite for learning here and to be proud of it. And I have nothing but pride in myself and my fellow peers for completing the rigorous curriculums here at this university.

I started the MBA program the day after I got married. Little did I know the late nights of being a newlywed would actually be spent with my nose buried in textbooks and assignments. I want to thank my dear husband, Damian. It is only fitting that my degree bear the name I took when we married—it is as much a reflection of my accomplishment as it is his unwavering support. Thank you, mom, for teaching me strength and determination I need to be a successful professional woman. And thank you to my friends, colleagues, and peers for offering encouragement along the way.

Whether we enrolled at this university to carry on family tradition or started a new tradition by being the first in our families to graduate college, whether we took out student loans to pay for this education or paid for our education by honorably serving our country, whether we finished our programs in two or four years or returned to this campus to continue education we had previously started, whether you are a graduate of a bachelor’s or of a master’s program, our different journeys led us all to the same destination—graduation.

Now, more than ever, the graduation stage is symbolic of how far each of us have come in our pursuit of higher education. Whatever curveballs life threw at us as students, today we are graduates.

Perhaps I am not the only one confused why the bulldog, of all animals, was selected as our school mascot. Well, after some research, I can share with you that, historically, bulldogs are bred for their strength and tenacity—but also for their decorum. This is truly what each and every graduate in this class embodies. No degree will be simply “handed out”—no, every degree has been duly earned as a result of hard work and dedication. And above all, resilience.

So, my fellow Bulldogs, as you add your degree to your resume and explore the doors that will now open to you as a University of Redlands graduate, I want to offer a few simple reminders. Continue to set your sights on the future, but grant yourself a moment to reflect on how far you have come. Remember the eagerness and anxiousness you may have felt on your first day of class, and know you transformed those feelings into an extraordinarily impressive academic achievement.

While we cannot be together in person to clap and cheer for one another until our hands are sore and our voices are hoarse, take pride in knowing that you are amongst an incredible group of graduates. A group that has faced—and overcome—some of the most difficult and unprecedented challenges in modern times. We are unified by our mutual success and enriched by our individual accolades.

I am proud to be a part of the graduating Class of 2020!”

Rising to the challenge

Following Gerry, Class of 2021 Commencement Speaker Alex Kyranakis ’21 delivered his address, touching on the strength and resilience that students demonstrated in order to earn their degrees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are excerpts from his speech:

“A day like today is very welcomed in times such as this. The journey we all have been on through this pandemic has challenged us and our families. The whole world is going through an event that has made life so very different. Illness, death, disappointment, financial loss, job loss, and much more struck our University of Redlands family.

"When circumstances required a new way of learning, you were resilient," says School of Business 2021 Commencement speaker Alex Kyranakis ’21. "You rose to the challenge and gave others hope. To the University of Redlands School of Business Class of 2021, congratulations on your high accomplishment."

But together, we persevered. We remained strong and resilient. Together, we kept hope alive. That perseverance and resilience has brought this day! A day that should serve as a symbol to you and me as well as those around us. The symbol of this graduation ignites inspiration, faith in great things to come, and a reassurance a bright future lies ahead. The tireless nights, the long days, and the many months of studying have paid off, all the while our world goes through uncertain times; that is a statement of the true accomplishment we have made.

I am sure this day brings a bit of personal reflection for you all. Reflection upon the journey that brought you to this very day. You may reflect upon the last few years or maybe your entire life. Nonetheless, we all have been on a path to get here. For me, it was only a few short years ago I found myself driving a semi-truck across the country. I drove nearly half a million miles during the five years of that job. All I had to my name was a cell phone bill. The experience was freeing and a bit of an adventure, but I still yearned for something bigger.

It was because of something very important during that time that led me to this day. In fact, it is an important part of all our journeys—the presence of people who influence, give trusted advice, and walk along with us in life. Those influential people are our mentors.

Fortunately, several mentors in my life encouraged me to come here to the University of Redlands. As I began here, one of those important influences gave me this piece of wisdom. He said, “You won’t be so much surprised at what you learn, but rather how much this experience will change you.”

Little did I know an experience certainly was coming. But those words of wisdom inspired me and intrigued me. I see now that we could have earned our degrees, learned the materials, and achieved the grades anywhere. But we came to the University of Redlands for a larger reason of growth and the building of life-long relationships in addition to the academics it offers. This university has equipped us to make a difference in our lives. This difference has built integrity, reliability, influence, values, and character, all upon a foundation of pristine education.

Once again, that did not come without the very important tool for us—mentors—in fact, for me, several. Those mentors have helped foster new understanding, achieve academic success, and complete many projects. But most of all, they changed us. This university changed us. This journey changed us. I am sure many of you can share in the same sentiments; many of you have grown so much, grown to be an influence on the world, a pioneer of something new, and a leader of our future.

Just think of the thousands of graduates before our class who walked in the footsteps we have now taken. The thousands of stories they have now made because of their accomplishments right here at the University. Many alumni are even here with us today.

Now, we become a part of that body of graduates changing the world. Although we are virtually having Commencement, the meaning of this day is not lost. The meaning of the accomplishments we have all made personally, for our families, and the world around us means a great deal.

I know, for me, resilience was a big part of this last year during this pandemic. The transition was not just online learning; it was a transition to virtual living in many ways. I found that, through the discouragement and unknown of what the year may bring, resilience would see me through.

For us all, the capacity to overcome difficulty is so very important, and we have done just that—overcome. The journey was tough—it was challenging; it brought highs and lows; it brought so much. But we made it through, and we did it together. We had mentors, friends, coworkers, business managers, and most importantly family members who believed in and helped us to persevere.

This university believes in us. This university shaped us. Let us now go and do much with it. My fellow classmates, we know what tough times can bring, but we obviously know how to overcome and pioneer change for a better future. This day is a symbol of what humanity needs—perseverance, resilience, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. We have achieved the success, the education, and the values this university so generously gives.

Now we are the mentors—the mentors to whatever good we want it to be. I am honored to be this year’s student Commencement speaker. But even more, I am proud to be a member of this class. When circumstances required a new way of learning, you were resilient. You rose to the challenge and gave others hope. To the University of Redlands School of Business Class of 2021, congratulations on your high accomplishment.”

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