This was a special group of graduates. The class of 2012 for The School of Hospitality Business in the Broad College of Business at MSU gathered one last time before commencement on Saturday, May 5 for an elegant brunch at the University Club, sponsored by the student Hospitality Association (HA) and planned by The School’s Student and Industry Resource Center (SIRC) Director Authella Collins Hawks and her very capable staff of students.
A record number of graduates and their families and friends attended the send-off – nearly 300 gathered to celebrate in what The School has begun to call, “The Newest Alumni” brunch. The energy and emotion in the main dining room were infectious. In her introductory remarks, Ms. Hawks introduced the many faculty and staff members who were present to honor the graduates, as well as a special alumnus who set a new standard for mentoring this past year, Coach Billy Downs (BA ’88), founder of Mongo Consulting and BD’s Mongolian Barbeque. She also introduced the speaker for the afternoon, Alumni Association Hall of Fame Member and Founding Director of the MSU Hospitality Business Real Estate Institute Richard Farrar (BA ’73).
Then Ms. Hawks gave the spotlight to some important seniors, asking all HA, club, and event officers to stand, as well as all senior members of the SIRC staff.
School Director and Professor Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77), welcomed the guests. “First,” he said, “all family members please stand. Second, all graduates, look at those family members and say a sincere, ‘Thank you.’”
Dr. Cichy then noted the “Sweet Sixteen” for these graduates, referring to the three foundations of their education: The School, the Broad College of Business, and of course, MSU; the special relationships among four groups in The School: students, faculty and staff, alumni, and industry partners; the four cornerstones of the curriculum: management, operations, real estate, and thinking like the owner; and the five ways students receive that education: coursework, internships, mentoring, professional development programs, and leadership roles in HA clubs and events. Total? Sixteen! And because of all this, he said, “Spartans Will . . . make a difference.”
After a beautifully prepared and presented meal, Richard captivated the guests with his address. “You have the knowledge, now,” he said. “Bring it to life, or to your life.” You have had 16 straight years of education, he noted, and you have learned the skills to manage in the hospitality industry. But now, he urged, it is time to take the next step, to bring value to your new employer, and to grow in wisdom. Richard explained, “Knowledge is knowing that tomatoes are fruit; wisdom is not putting them in a fruit salad.”
The School’s student leaders were selected by top companies and organizations, Richard said, not to stay managers, but to be “tomorrow’s leaders.”
Reminding the students that just a few years ago, we used rotary phones, and black and white televisions with only three channels, Richard spoke of breakthrough technological changes and asked the graduates how they will prepare for and stay fresh for the next 40-50 years before they retire.
“Embrace or lead change,” he suggested. “Think outside the box.” But at the same time, recognize that the hospitality business is as old as civilization (after all, he explained, even Mary and Joseph got “walked” due to overbooking!), and not all that complicated. “It is a service business. We are in the business of serving others – a noble, kind, enriching endeavor.”
One more way to lead change: “Invest in yourself.” Richard told the students to “exercise; read to keep your mind challenged; invest in MSU and The School; show leadership at work, even if it’s as simple a volunteering to organize the summer picnic; care – about your work, your fellow associates, your guests, and your boss or owner; choose to have a good attitude; call your mom and dad at least once a week(!); and have fun, since you will spend 75% of your waking hours at work.”
New Alumnus and HA President Jake Dondzila (BA ’12), who is an extraordinary student leader, gave final remarks. He recapped the many impressive accomplishments of this group of seniors, through their work with HA clubs and events. He noted the dozens and dozens of charitable efforts of the students. And he shared several poignant (and funny!) memories of special classroom and post-event moments. When he described the remarkable closeness within the Class of 2012, there weren’t many dry eyes left in the room.
“As I look out at all of you, I see leaders, world changers, faces of change, innovation, education, policy, and prosperity. I see those devoted to the service of hospitality. But most importantly, I see my ‘family.’ The people I’ve spent the last four years learning to love and spending so much time together. We’ve had our tremendous successes, our challenges, but most of all we’ve had each other.” Jake’s comments certainly confirmed Dr. Cichy’s frequent observation that “The School is all about relationships.”
It was announced that Jessica Wiggins (BA ’12), CAREER EXPO XXXIII executive director, and Lucas Magnini (BA ’12), CMAA student chapter president from 2010-2012, had been voted by their peers as this class’s Outstanding Seniors. A fitting tribute to two “future leaders” destined for great careers.
A final treat for the new graduates was in store at the end of the brunch. Each of their names was called individually, each one walked to the podium for a photo with Dr. Cichy, and each received a commemorative “shield” with The School’s 85th anniversary logo on a green and white ribbon to wear around their necks at the afternoon’s commencement ceremony. As he had told them earlier in his opening remarks, “Spartans Will. . . change the world.”
Our best wishes to the Spring 2012 graduates.