Thank you, Dean Reinemund, for your introduction. I am truly honored to meet you and welcome the leadership and charisma you bring to Wake Forest University. I would also like to thank the Development Office for orchestrating one of the most meaningful events I have ever experienced. Donors, thank you for attending. You may never know the extent of the impact you have on the lives you enrich. Students, thank for honoring your donors by your presence. Please don’t forget them after today.
I did complete my Executive MBA in December of 2007. What you don’t know is upon completion of my undergraduate degree in 1995, I swore I would never go back to school!! But in April 2006, life took a turn. I was a casualty of corporate downsizing. Within three weeks, I landed a job — not a dream job, just one to help me survive. But my 11 years of work experience was no longer enough to sustain, interest, or advance me. What’s more, I started to see a pattern in my life that I did not like — quitting when challenges seemed too difficult. I had to get out of my comfort zone and advance myself both professionally and personally. It was time to eat my own words and pursue an MBA after all! So on July 31, 2006 I attended day one of a program I swore for 11 years I would never attend!
Two months into the program life took another turn. My twin sister’s husband abandoned my sister, my 2-year old niece, and my 5-month old nephew. I became the surrogate partner and parent. My paycheck now went toward monthly mortgages for a house I did not own, diapers for children I did not birth, and attorney fees to clean up the damage by a man who ended up fleeing the country. I didn’t make enough money to cover all the bills for my “new” life, let alone for an advanced degree. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I’m sorry, “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.” So, I did.
One of my entrance essays discussed how the pursuit of my MBA was just one way I would prove to myself that I could start something and finish it, that I would not quit when things got hard. But I wrote that essay in light of a mental difficulty, not a financial one. The financial pressure weighed heavily on my heart, so I considered exiting the program upon completion of the first semester.
Two months later, I was notified that I was the recipient of the Gay Nell Hutchens Scholarship, designed specifically for female Executive MBA students with financial burdens. That was my sign to complete the program in its entirety.
Later that month, I attended the Stewardship Breakfast and met my donor, Gay Nell. We had a pleasant breakfast. She told me her about her career background and her completion of her Executive MBA at Wake Forest University. I told Gay Nell about my current work and home situation. I conveyed to Gay Nell how grateful I was to receive her scholarship, since I had all but decided to exit the program. Gay Nell told me that I should not give up my pursuits. I kept thinking to myself, “She is so lovely, distinguished, polished, and successful. How will I ever prove worthy of her scholarship?”
Then it occurred to me. I owed it to myself and to Gay Nell to finish the race. I could not disgrace her by rejecting her generous gift or by failing to complete the program. I had to set my sites on the long-term implications. So I continued the MBA program and periodically wrote letters to Gay Nell, giving updates on school, work, and home. In time, Gay Nell became my mentor, my cheerleader, and my friend.
But to be honest, for several months after completing my MBA, I literally sobbed to my closest friends, “WAS THIS DEGREE EVEN WORTH IT??” Cameron Meador was my closest friend from the program who had to put up with my tears and late night calls. Seventy percent of my classmates had already received pay increases or promotions. Meanwhile, I was miserable in my current job, wondering why I did not yet have a more enriched job, or at least one that paid more! Then I realized if that was my sole takeaway, then I had missed the whole point of my education. I had been taught by some extremely gifted professors, grown through interaction with more experienced classmates, acquired new skill sets while refining others, cultivated a network with classmates and alumni, and developed confidence, a sense of being, and a skill set to interact competently with senior management. In essence, I had stretched out of my comfort zone, accomplished a difficult feat to completion, and grown professionally and personally. These were my initial motivations to pursue an advanced degree, and ultimately these were my accomplishments.
It was when I came to these realizations that my big break came and demonstrated the value of my MBA and the alumni network. Gay Nell had passed along my resume to another Executive MBA, who delivered it to Human Resources of VF Corporation in Greensboro, NC. VF’s HR was in the process of recruiting MBAs for a program designed to groom future managers in the VF Supply Chain. I now have an enriched and fulfilling position at VF, making more money and traveling the world. To further appreciate this, you need to understand I left Hanesbrands to go to VF. The recent layoffs at Hanesbrands remind me of the value of my degree and the value of my relationship with Gay Nell. Without the pursuit of my MBA, I never would have met Gay Nell. Without Gay Nell, I never would have gotten a seat on the VF bus!
Of all the lessons Gay Nell has taught me in the two years I have known her, I can sum most of them up with two words: COURAGE and STEWARDSHIP. Our lives are daily opportunities to have the courage be good stewards of our relationships, talents, education, careers, and personal development. And this is my challenge to you who are currently pursuing your advanced degrees. Have the courage to be good stewards of your relationships, talents, education, careers, personal development, and your donors’ generosity. Build a life that will make them proud that they were part of your journey — that they were your hope, your inspiration, and a part of how you will sculpt the rest of your lives. I leave you with one final thought spoken by Churchill, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities … because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Thank you Gay Nell!