Graduation Ceremony 2023, part I: Homage to Women, Doctorates and MSIE's
HEC Paris enjoyed its 142nd graduation ceremony over the course of two sunny June days on the Jouy-en-Josas campus. Over 130 volunteer staff members welcomed the 6,000 plus graduates and their families for Commencement Days which saw a tantalizing number of first-ever’s, ranging, from an impromptu live by Magic System (see Part II), to a homage that leaped generations for a 1941 HEC graduate. All to mark the 50th anniversary of women candidates arriving at the campus gates…
“It is up to us, the luckiest, the most privileged and the best equipped, to make room for minorities, for those who have no voice in the matter.” Who better than Christel Heydemann to defend the voiceless, exactly 50 years after HEC Paris finally opened its doors of its entrance exams to women candidates? The dynamic CEO of the Orange Group was one of two guests-of-honor invited to share their worldly wisdom with the 2023 HEC graduates under the vast white marquee set up for the occasion.
Heydemann’s ascent in a male-dominated industry has been exemplary since she began at BCG in 1997. “Diversity never appears as the straightest or easiest road,” she continued at the June 9 ceremony. “Yet it is unquestionably the richest.”
Sophie Bellon, Chairwoman at Sodexo © Noé Bugnot
Words that were echoed by the second ‘star’ of the graduation, Sophie Bellon. “Challenging the status quo is not about trying to move mountains, it’s just about trying to move the needle,” said the first woman to head a CAC 40 boardroom, to those assembled on Day Two of these Commencement Ceremonies. “Relentlessly, in the long term, it makes a huge difference – and it also makes you grow.” The applause shook the marquee for a woman who had been told in 2008 to leave a leadership team meeting because, she was told, “these roles were not for women, because (leadership jobs) involved travel.” Eight years later, Bellon became the Chairwoman of Sodexo.
But it was also the ‘smaller’ stories that touched the graduation ceremonies. “I’m deeply moved by the homage from my future brother-in-law, Vincent Bourdier, who has dedicated his Executive MBA degree 2023 to my father, an HEC graduate during World War II, Jean Rochard.” Simple words from Didier Rochard, which belied the emotion of all those close to his father, whose survival in the German work camps during the war owed much to Rochard’s HEC experience. Jean Rochard survived this ordeal to enjoy a glittering business career, in parallel with one as a violin soloist well into his 80s. “My father was strongly attached to HEC throughout his life,” continued Didier Rochard. “I can only imagine his pride from where he is now, in following Vincent’s 16 months at the same business school.”
Vincent Bourdier was equally moved by the symbolism of following in the footsteps of his grandfather by affinity five years after Jean Rochard passed away. "Receiving this degree with my fiancée Sophie at my side, Jean's grand-daughter, well, I can feel his spirit floating above us," he said with emotion. "Jean was always an inspiration, the picture of his degree has been on my desk throughout my studies. And his family has always been supportive of my dream of gaining an Executive MBA degree. I couldn't have done it without them."
HEC graduate Jean Rochard, also First Violinist in pre-War Paris
“Go… BUT Come Back!”
Such personal words echoed those of Eloïc Peyrache in the Dean’s welcome speech: ‘Go, leave,” he told those assembled. “BUT come back quickly to give back to your school some of what it has given you! Come back to testify on your impact in the world and be role models for the future generation of students. Come back to get fully involved in the HEC Alumni community around the world. Each of you has a role to play in it.”
That global community has now swollen to over 72,000 people and amongst them was Virginie Carteron who returned to her 2013 haunt to witness the graduation of her daughter Marine from the Grande Ecole. A decade ago, her 14-year-old had enjoyed watching her mother graduate from the EMBA program and now the tables were turned: “I take such great pride in seeing my daughter follow my footsteps. We are two generations who have enjoyed the riches of a wonderful institution,” said Virginie, who has since enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing. Marine, meanwhile, was able to juggle her 2019-2023 studies with her rugby, a passion she took to Sydney, Australia, for a Master during her year abroad.
From the Island of Aruba … to Paris
One could say that the June 9-10 graduation proceedings really began the evening before, when a lavish dinner was organized in the Hall d’Honneur for the graduates-to-be. It was an occasion to witness different generations of students, from seasoned executives to pre-experience novices, mill and celebrate this rite of passage called a “depart” in French and a “commencement” in English. “We are interconnected in the tapestry of life,” confided one of the dozens of graduates from the MSIE program, Kirti Daryanani. She had somehow managed to balance the rigors of this 16-month online Master in innovation and entrepreneurship with the demands of her Kirtana168 boutique in London - and those of growing child. “This program was the second hardest milestone of my life after giving birth to my daughter,” she continued. “This graduation is the result of hard work, perseverance, dedication, and late-night calls to my brothers. They’re both finance graduates and their support were as important as the backing I received from my company, who are rewarding me with a C-suite post.”
Daryanani has traveled the long path from her native island, Aruba to the Jouy campus. She’s the first-ever from the Dutch Caribbean nation of 90,000 people to clutch an HEC degree. “The key to succeed is to balance the various aspects of our lives,” she told those assembled at the graduation ceremony. “So, I juggled the Master with parenting, startup development, and yoga teaching with an incredible group of fellow graduates sitting with me today. They say people who risk nothing, do nothing. And we did it!”
The Long Doctoral Road
HEC Ph.D. graduates 2023 © Noé Bugnot
The serious business of the graduation itself began with the most senior of categories, the PhD scholars. To quote the Ghanaian writer Lailah Gifty Akita: “The pursuit of PhD is an enduring daring adventure”, and it made this Doctor in Geoscience “poorer, without money, but richer in thoughts.” During celebratory cocktail before the ceremony, HEC’s Associate Dean of the Ph.D. program, Johan Hombert, stood proudly amongst the doctoral students, 14 of whom had successfully defended their Ph.Ds. this year: “You can be proud of your accomplishments,” he said, raising his glass. “There have been plenty of late nights scouring data, wracked with uncertainty, your families baffled about the fact you are spending six long years writing up three papers. But you made it! And you will be continuing your academic journey in exciting academic institutions in London, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Lisbon, Bonn, Singapore, Paris or Montreal. We professors are proud of you. Now…” He paused: “My advice to you is to try to be happy with your work. You will enjoy lots of freedom, it’s a passionate profession. But it’s also easy to lose sight of your core objectives, there’s a lot of pressure to publish fast. Please, don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate, don’t wait till that research article is published in an “A” journal. Remain cheerful and enjoy that rare freedom you have.”
The cheers were loud and heartfelt from the HEC Ph.D. students gathered to bid farewell to the newly crowned Doctors leaving the 55-strong HEC community. Tianhao Yao had defended his doctoral thesis a mere three days before. Now, he is set to leave for his post at Singapore Management University. “I am filled with gratitude to so many people who’ve helped me along my five-year journey,” he confided during his acceptance speech. “This Ph.D. group is special. I guess from the younger students’ point of view, we are like the ‘dinosaurs’ of the campus. We kind of live in our bubble, a seemingly “boring” bubble. But I would say we are enjoying our own excitement, the excitement of research. Our mission is to produce knowledge which helps us better understand the world. For example, in finance we are studying how to keep the stability of the financial system after the recent bank failures. Or whether ChatGPT will displace the jobs of financial analysts.” Yao paused before the Friday audience: “The business world is changing very quickly… Now the purpose of business includes responsibilities to other stakeholders, employees, customers, local communities, the environment, and so on. Managers are now taking actions to make their firms responsible for the broad society and we have to track that.”
Enjoy Part II of this two-part series, which sees students drape the campus in the colors and sounds of West Africa…