Ueng urges graduates to embrace ‘the mountains of life, business and beyond’

Grace W. Ueng, founder and CEO of Savvy Growth, encouraged students receiving master’s degrees in business administration and management to endure through life’s challenges during her Commencement address May 19 in Whitley Auditorium.

Graduates in the Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Management programs gathered before their Commencement ceremony May 19.

Though she knew Commencement would arrive one day, Jasmine Suitt never allowed herself to look too far ahead. She remained focused resolutely on the next task, the next class—a necessary strategy with a schedule as full as hers.

Suitt worked toward her master’s degree in management while spending 30 hours a week as a personal banker at Wells Fargo and raising two young children. But when it finally was time for her to receive her diploma Friday night in Whitley Auditorium, Suitt soaked it all in.

Grace W. Ueng, founder and CEO of Savvy Growth, delivered the keynote address.
“It’s one of those moments of pride for me,” she said. “I’m the first in my family to do this. I’m setting an example for my kids. I’ve done this for them, my mom, my husband. It’s just a moment of pride.”

All 32 Master of Business Administration students and 10 Master of Science in Management students who received their degrees May 19 made their own distinct sacrifices to reach this milestone.

>> See photos from the Master of Business Administration and the Master of Science in Management Class of 2017 graduation

“Earning my MBA was a very steep mountain to climb, and you all have made it. Congratulations,” said Grace W. Ueng, founder and chief executive officer of Savvy Growth and the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “… Each of you holds a unique story—you embody a wide range of talents and work experiences. And each of you will go into or back into your work world better equipped to tackle new challenges that life throws your way.”

Ueng recounted one of her greatest challenges, which disrupted her 40th birthday celebration in California with classmates from Harvard Business School. A devastating cycling accident left her with a broken neck and short-term memory loss. Following the accident, Ueng said she was “airlifted unconscious off Sonoma Mountain Road to a new state of mind.” She persevered through physical therapy, occupational therapy and ongoing meetings with neurologists to regain her mental and physical strength.

The experience gave her a fresh outlook on success, one defined by the ability to weather through personal and professional obstacles and celebrate life’s victories throughout the journey. Ueng began studying the correlation between endurance athletes and those who start successful companies, as well as the field of positive psychology. “As you progress in your career, you may think, ‘When I just get that promotion to vice president or when I become a CEO, then I will finally be happy!’ But it’s not that way at all.  When we are happy, that is when we will have success.”

MBA student Daniel Moore's fellow graduates selected him to speak on behalf of the class.
The concepts of endurance and happiness inspired Ueng’s Project Peak, a series of workshops and talks on “climbing the mountains of life, business and beyond.” She encouraged the graduates to consider the seven core themes of Project Peak as they embark on their post-Elon careers. 

1. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Ueng said the graduates should have the courage to pursue the opportunities they encounter in the coming years, to avoid looking back with regret at the path not taken. She once faced a choice between returning to ​General Mills, her first employer out of business school, or taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. She chose the latter, ultimately contributing to the growth of five technology ventures. 

2. Failure is a good thing. Failure is feedback that leads to success, Ueng said. Failure affords business leaders the chance to learn and grow, and sometimes opens the door for a better opportunity. “If you didn’t experience the bad, you would not appreciate the good,” she said. 

3. Speak the future now. Successful entrepreneurs have a knack for articulating their future vision, Ueng said, and they have the confidence to speak as if that vision is reality today. “They ‘will’ the future to happen, and inspire those around them to make sure this vision becomes reality,” she said. “You can be that leader, too.”

4. Power of visualization. When she was training for her first marathon, Ueng’s coach suggested she display posters with the caption “Grace the Athlete” throughout her home. She advised the graduates to use photos of people they admire or handwritten positive messages as motivation toward achieving their goals. 

5. Channel fear to your advantage. Fear can be paralyzing when unaddressed, Ueng said, but channeling that fear builds confidence. By tackling her own fear of diving headfirst into a swimming pool, she proved to herself that she could handle any challenge.

The graduates celebrated with their loved ones following the Commencement ceremony at Whitley Auditorium.
6. Bias for action. In Ueng’s experience, people either make things happen or let things happen to them. “You all have this fork in the road today in receiving your diploma,” she said. “What will you now do differently in the coming week? The coming months? What will be your bias for action?”

7. Enjoying the journey. Whatever peaks and valleys the graduates face in their next chapter, Ueng reminded them to relish every moment along the way. “I wish you all the very best in climbing your mountains,” she said, “and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”

Graduates also heard remarks from MBA student Daniel Moore, whose peers selected him to speak on behalf of the class. Moore said earning a graduate degree placed him and his classmates in the top 1 percent globally in terms of education, and he challenged his fellow graduates to make that position count.

“Spider-Man’s uncle says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ and I think that’s where we are right now,” he said. “We all have greater power with our advanced degrees, and each of us has greater power than we may individually recognize or realize. But it’s all just potential until we pursue it, until we put it into practice, until we align it with our values.”

Candidates for the Master of Business Administration degree:

Jonathan Carl Anders

Henry William Ashton

MarQuita Danielle Barker

Joshua R. Bonney

Heather Summers Bouchillon 

Dalton Jane Brower

Thomas John Chun 

Stephen Keith Farabee 

Katharine Anne Frazier 

Robert Frank Hale 

Jillian Hays Hollis

Michelle Elizabeth Korczynski

Marie-Claire Kore

Corinne Michelle Lee

Terrence William Loding, Jr. 

Anish Thomas Mathew

John Albert Mikolaitis, Jr. 

Daniel Lance Moore 

Tyler Warren Munson

Morgan Kah-Ryn Oliver 

Robert Grant Pannell III 

Rebecca Bishopric Patterson 

Alice McDonald Pittman 

Neal Thomas Saunders

Juanita Welch Skillman 

Randal Craig Smith   

Brian Alexander Sonberg

Christopher Neal Stultz

Patricia Ann Teter

James Derek Thomas  

Sarah Katherine Townsend 

Kathryn Daniels Williams

Candidates for the Master of Science in Management degree:

Kathryn Renee Boyle

Thomas Hunter Edge

Michael Edward Faircloth, Jr.

Gabrielle Shanice Howard 

Jacob Matthew Ingle

James Mitchell McRee

Roshan Thirumala Neelakantan

Viktor Peter Op de Beke 

Jasmine Thompson Suitt

Roshini Tirumala Neelakantan