The commencement of the Class of 2016 was bittersweet, with poignant speakers, awards recognizing exceptional students, and a general feeling of community as the graduates embark on a new chapter in their careers and lives. Above all, a common theme throughout the commencement festivities was the concept of servant leadership.
Howard Behar, Former President of Starbucks International, was the commencement speaker. In his speech, he recounted the story of an elderly customer who walked into the same Starbucks store every day and ordered the same coffee drink and muffin. When the customer did not show up one day, a barista on the team went to his residence to check on him and bring him his usual order. The barista was told that he had passed on. The Starbucks team went to the customer’s funeral and set up a table full of his usual order, and on each muffin bag was one of the personalized messages the team would write for the customer every morning. This story illustrates that business is not simply a series of transactions that lead to profitability and beating out one’s competition. It is about building meaningful relationships by serving others wholeheartedly. Mr. Behar models this service mindset, giving back via the Foster MBA Mentor Program and serving on several non-profit boards. He addressed the graduating Class of 2016 saying, “What you have just given yourself is the opportunity to serve others.” By earning an MBA from the University of Washington’s prestigious Foster School of Business, all the learning the students gleaned has effectively become a lifelong obligation to serve others with their honed talents and skills.
Sheena Seibert-Nelson, Evening MBA Class of 2016, gave student remarks on behalf of the graduating class. Building on the service theme, she advised her peers to “remain lifelong learners and give back to the community.” Indeed, the students in the graduating class embodied this attitude throughout their three years at Foster. Dan Poston, Assistant Dean for Masters Programs, commended the Class of 2016 for standing out not just in academics, but also in the extracurricular activities through which they served each other and the community. In what was arguably the best illustration of the Foster MBA brand, he asked students to stand up who had been involved in the Peer Mentor Program, then those who had served on the MBA Association, Challenge for Charity- Boys & Girls Club and Special Olympics, the Board Fellows Program, and several other service activities through the Foster School. Dan Poston asked the students to remain standing as he listed the rest of the organizations in which students participated. By the end of the list, nearly every student was standing. It was a proud moment for the students, their families, and the Foster community.
On a lighter note, Dan Poston also shared that the Class of 2016 was exceptional for yet another reason. Previously, the Class of 2012 held a record of 12 babies born during the three-year curriculum of the Foster Evening MBA Program. The Class of 2016 broke that record with 23 babies over the course of their studies at the Foster School, thereby “redefining productivity.” The laughter that ensued was reminiscent of the laughs that students shared during team meetings and study sessions throughout the challenging curriculum at Foster.
It is no secret that Foster Evening MBA graduates are hard-working and ambitious, and they will go on to make the niche they occupy in the world a better place. But beyond that, they understand that the greatest takeaway from the program is the network of genuine friendships they gained. They know they can lean on each other, they celebrate each other’s milestones, serve the community together, and bring others along when they find success. This, service and community, is Foster.
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