MSM Graduation 2020: A new generation of leaders for a changing world


As with everything else this year, COVID-19 had an impact on MSM’s annual Graduation ceremony as many students, friends and family were unable to make the trip to Maastricht to celebrate together the achievements of the graduating classes of 2020. Yet, unexpectedly, the festive event turned out to be more participatory and global than ever. Close to 2,000 viewers from all corners of the world, from Indonesia to Nigeria, India, Colombia and Peru, watched the ceremony online through the simultaneous live stream broadcasted on YouTube and publicly shared their messages of congratulations on social media.

In Maastricht, about 100 students, their family and friends, and MSM staff and community members were able to gather, respecting the health and safety measures in the spacious foyer at the MECC congress center. In his words of welcome, master of ceremony Oliver Olson reminded the audience that these were unusual times indeed: “Please do your best not to give hugs – I know, this is difficult on a festive day like today. Find creative ways to take photos maintaining a safe distance, and wear your MSM Graduation mouth masks: they’re so good looking!”

Mr. Meinhard Gans, MSM CEO/Dean a.i. congratulated the graduating students for managing to complete their programs on time in exceptional conditions: “By any standards, this was the most challenging year at MSM since the beginning of the MBA program 36 years ago, when on 13 March, we moved our face-to-face education delivery overnight to an online-based learning environment. Let me, for the record, and on behalf of team MSM, express my deep respect for your extraordinary achievement.”

Voicing the thoughts of many in the room, Mr. Gans emphasized the need for new forms of leadership: “Due to the pandemic, the world is fundamentally different from when you started your studies, one or two years ago. The requirements for good leadership are rapidly changing in a world where businesses are becoming more value-driven, focusing more on human and social values. This unprecedented situation is not described in the textbooks, so it will be up to you to set the example!”

This year’s keynote speaker, Kaak Group CEO Lodewijk van der Borg, elaborated on the need for more human-centered leadership. “The Sustainable Development Goals are still new concepts for companies, but they can serve as good guidance to bring morality back into the industrial and monetary system. Companies need to make sure that their employees are healthy and happy because this will create a flow that will benefit everyone. The future starts now, and I’m a bit jealous of you!”

MSM Director of Education and Executive Development David Cass reiterated MSM’s hopes and expectations for the graduands: “We will gauge our success with you by what you do with your knowledge. Help change the world for the better. Be generous to others, but above all, lead. Be exceptional at whatever you do. Add value and make it your aim to do something positive and make a difference for somebody else, in the quality and honesty of your work.”

On this inspiring note, the awaited moment of the awarding of the diplomas finally came. As the students started lining up to receive their degrees, their friends and families excitedly took to social media to express their joy and send messages of congratulations for their accomplishments. “From México City, we are proud that our daughter is receiving her Master’s degree!!!!!!”

“It means a lot to us to have this ceremony today,” said MBA36 class representative Venkateshwaran Rajagopal in his valedictory speech, referring to the uncertainties that marked much of this year’s program. “Before coming to MSM, I was warned that I would be in for a roller coaster ride, and it sure was! Except that this year has been a roller coaster ride for the entire world!”

MBA Best student of the year award winner Joseph Micheli believed that Covid-19 made the year more challenging, but that it also helped in being even more prepared for the ever-changing business world.

“The pandemic has forced us to question and to reinvent the way we live,” reflected Sofia Neria Gonzalez, MM7 class representative. Comparing her academic journey to an uphill bicycle ride filled with unusual obstacles, she chose to look back on the past few months in a positive and constructive way: “COVID-19 has shown us that sometimes we need to slow down and to observe in order to learn from the setbacks and build a world that is better for everyone.”

“In some sense, our programmes are about creating something difficult,” agreed MSM Director of Academics Dr. Stuart Dixon in his closing remarks. “If it were easy, you wouldn’t be experiencing this feeling today. That’s a wonderful moment, so please keep that in mind when you face future challenges, because these challenges will push you to grow and to become the person you really want to be.”

There was a prevailing impression among students of having undergone a personal transformation in a changing world. Sang Tran, who will graduate next month and start a new job in the Netherlands soon after, said that she felt “stronger and more independent” than when she joined the MBA program last September.

Marie-Laure Van de Berg, who won the best student award in the Master in Management program, explained that she had learned the power of listening and the value of teamwork. “As an engineer, I came to MSM with a very scientific, analytical and result-oriented approach to problems. I was not used to considering the human and social aspects when proposing solutions. The Master in Management program taught me to take a step back and to become more humble and listen to other people, who often came with a different mindset and brought unconventional ideas to team projects. I saw that collaborative solutions were not only more innovative, but also more inclusive and sustainable.”

In October, Marie-Laure will start working as a process engineer for a company in the energy sector in Belgium. Part of her tasks will consist in finding solutions in hydrogen production: “Businesses are starting to use the SDGs to attract young people. Yet, they are also finding that the SDGs are difficult to implement in practice and to measure in terms of impact. Many firms have dropped their SDG-related initiatives during the pandemic because they were not part of their core business. I think that companies need to change the way they do business. I am convinced that it is possible to be profitable and still to improve people’s lives and society at the same time.”

Class of 2020, you are dismissed! Congratulations and make us proud!

Click here to see the pictures of the MSM Graduation 2020.