Summer 2021


Letter from the Dean.

Dean Eric JohnsonIn many little ways, the Commencement season exhibited the same joyful moments as any year at Owen: a warm spring day, robed graduates, proud parents, and a live string quartet merrily greeting crowds as they navigated through a sea of seats. In other ways, commencement looked different. Graduates sat 6 feet apart and donned commemorative Vanderbilt masks. When their names were called, they received diploma holders for photo ops and walked across the stage to clapping supporters. I couldn’t shake their hands as they passed, but rather smiled through my mask and stood proudly in the background as their pictures were taken center stage.

Of course, this year was unusual in many other ways. We held Commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021, in two different venues (Rec Center Field 3 and Vanderbilt Stadium, respectively), with two wonderful speakers (Neil Ramsey and Sarah Trahern) and two opportunities to experience the joy and shared pride that comes at graduation. Strawberries and Champagne were replaced with lovely gift boxes containing chocolate-covered strawberries, and graduates and their guests were left to convene off campus at their own discretion, instead of at a reception with faculty and staff at Owen.

In a matter of two short weeks in May, the academic year ended like it began—in unusual circumstances, filled with differences large and small. Looking back on it, those differences don’t mean as much to me as the success we had in navigating the challenges they presented.

We’ve enjoyed a lot of success this year, as you’ll see in this edition of the magazine. Through crises of public health, social justice and a sputtering economy, Owen has moved forward, striving for new levels of excellence as a community.

We were able to offer in-person educational experiences throughout the entire academic year, carefully managing the risk to students, faculty and staff. We reaffirmed our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion through several initiatives, including the development of well-received D&I curriculum that caught the attention of BusinessWeek. We enjoyed strong employment results across our daytime programs, helping students achieve their professional aspirations as we would in less strenuous times. And through the generosity of the Owen Century Partners and Vanderbilt University, we broke ground on
the largest renovation and expansion of Management Hall in the school’s history.

We also kept our promises. Vanderbilt and Owen made a promise to the Class of 2020 and delivered the in-person commencement experience we committed to last spring, when the pandemic stole the opportunity away from them. It may sound like an uninspiring achievement at first, but a quick look around the higher education landscape adds some context. Many elite business schools opted for virtual ceremonies for 2021 graduates. Several that held in-person events for 2021 graduates did not recognize the class of 2020 in their events, deferring to reunion in the fall, or nothing. Other schools didn’t allow guests, and some reserved in-person ceremonies for undergraduates only.

Through resilience, innovation and the tireless efforts of faculty and staff, we were able to not only deliver on our promise of world-class education on a personal scale, but to move forward as a school and a community. What a difference a year can make!

All the best,

Ralph Owen Dean
Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Strategy

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