Graduation Ceremony 2023, part II: Jumping into the Magic System
HEC Paris enjoyed its 142nd graduation ceremony over the course of two sunny June days on the Jouy-en-Josas campus. In Part I, we described the 50th anniversary of women student admission to the school and the graduation of executives, online Masters and Ph.D. students. Now we turn to the arrival of HEC’s first-ever PACT Afrique graduates and a vibrant live rendition by Côte d’Ivoire music icons, Magic System, to close out the Commencement Ceremonies.
In many ways the two-day graduation ceremony was also draped in the orange, white and green colors of the Côte d’Ivoire. 2023 was the first time that students from the PACT equal opportunities program - an initiative launched in 2019 with the complicity of the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny - graduated from the HEC MiM Grande Ecole Program. The graduation also featured over 30 Ivorian executives who successfully completed the school’s Executive Master; and one of them went on to shake the marquee tent to its foundations with his global music hits. “Today is a dream accomplished,” said Alexis John Ahyee, Director of the HEC Paris Western & Central Africa Representative Office in Abidjan. “We needed so much determination, energy and a healthy sprinkle of pixie dust to launch the program. And now, when I see these young men and women graduate, wearing their black gowns and caps, I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved together. They come from modest backgrounds and this Master represents an access to an elite education that will help transform Africa.”
Ivorian graduates 2023 with Côte d’Ivoire Ambassador Maurice Bandaman
A sentiment echoed by the ambassador in France Maurice Kouakou Bandaman, Côte d’Ivoire’s former Minister of Culture and Francophonie. At a pre-ceremony gathering in the school’s Château, Bandaman insisted on the long tradition his country holds in promoting education: “You know, our first President, Houphouët-Boigny assigned around 45% of our budget to our education system, more than double what he gave to defense and security. And this tradition has been maintained, with grants for our most brilliant students. So, it is only natural that I come to the campus to pay homage to these graduates who will become pioneering forces in our country.” Bandaman pointed to the need to ally engineering with management and strategy to reinforce Côte d’Ivoire’s hydraulic, electrical and transport infrastructures. “And then there’s the agricultural sector,” he pursued. “The new drive for sustainable development and management here at HEC is perfectly suited to our aim to find new techniques to ally our cocoa and coffee industries with our value chain and our culture. These graduates will contribute to our plans to create plants to transform raw material like rubber, cocoa, coffee, cashew nuts into finished products.”
Celebrating graduation at the HEC château, pre-ceremony
The SASI Line
One of the beneficiaries of an Ivorian government merit-based scholarship, Jean-Martial Bla was one of the five Grande Ecole graduates to gravitate towards such ambitions. He was on hand to celebrate his three years at HEC, during which time he founded and presided over the student association HEC Pact & Friends. Next to him, was fellow graduate Kiyalie Kémien who seemed almost lost for words when looking back at her time at HEC: “It was everything but easy but I’m so happy that I went through this journey,” she confided. “The school brought me so much more than knowledge. I learnt to push my limits again and again, to walk through competition.” The Ivorian had chosen the nine-month sustainability and social innovation (SASI) major to cap her MiM Grande Ecole Master and is determined to put it to good use: “I’m looking at investment with impact and adding sociological elements for greater sensitivity to societal needs. I remember when Professor Jeremy Ghez greeted us by saying: ‘You don’t have to stick to a certain division, our goal is to send you students everywhere, from strategy to marketing. The change has to be done from the inside.’ When he said that, I knew I had made the right choice with SASI.”
Grande école graduate Kiyalie Kémien
Bridging the African Generations
At the graduation ceremony, Kémien was joined by students of an older generation who are also committing their experience and education towards developing the African continent. For the past three years, Malik Séibou Gomina has juggled the duties of being a Parliamentarian in Benin with the rigors of a Global Executiver Master: “After 20 years as a journalist, I needed to find a way to relaunch my career. HEC provided me with the tools I hope to use to improve the daily lives of my voters back home.” At his side, fellow alumnus Don Dussey explained his decision to leave a multinational company to devote himself to the daily environment of his fellow citizens in Côte d’Ivoire. “And these studies have been a crucial steppingstone for this ambition,” he said after the ceremony. “I learnt to push back my limits in ways I never imagined. I was shown how I can transform my dreams into reality without being too ‘nuclear’ (sic.). Instead, I found concrete solutions that I’ll apply through my company Premium Partners.”
Meanwhile, Sidikou Karimou insisted on a Master program at HEC which provided him with a healthy dollop of confidence: “I’m a self-made man who fought all my career to reach my position, without any benchmark,” said the man who is running Harmonies Media Group in Cotonou, Benin. “So, I came here to find those benchmarks and references because things had got too hard for someone on the field.” Like Dussey, an enduring asset from his two years at HEC has been the strong network of likeminded students: “You meet so many brilliant and good people here, it’s bound to be a crucial factor in your career as you go further.”
Zouglou, Coupé Décalé… and an Executive Master Made-in-HEC
The cherry on the graduation cake on Saturday June 10, however, was arguably the performance onstage by one of the best-known alumni, triumphantly finishing his Global Executive Master in Management (GEMM). For decades, Salif Traoré has become better known under his stage name A’salfo, lead singer of the Ivorian band Magic System. The quartet has become something of a musical myth on the continent – and beyond -, pioneering the coupé-décalé sound with runaway hits like “1er Gaou” in 2000. But Traoré’s ambitions have gone far beyond his vocals and the Zouglou dance style he helped forge. He founded the Côte d’Ivoire’s first international music festival, FEMUA, in 2008, which has gone from strength to strength in its goal to bring popular culture to the country’s poorest populations. Now, Traoré aims to take it that step further: “I came to HEC to find the tools to develop our cultural and creative industries, readapt it to attract our diaspora and spotlight what an artistic powerhouse we’ve become.”
Salif Traoré aka A’salfo of Magic System
This imagination and agility was on display at the end of the Commencement Ceremony. Draped in the habitual black cloak, cap and orange scarf, the singer sidled up to the microphone and said he had struggled to choose the right words to reflect his HEC experience, even resorting to ChatGPT: “But it came up with nothing adequate. So, I fell back on what I know best: singing.” And A’salfo launched into “Magic in the Air,” his group’s 2014 hit, which became global when it accompanied France every time the national football team scored a goal in their triumphant FIFA World Cup campaign of 2018.
With his three comperes, the 44-year-old left an indelible mark on the ceremony: “I’ve gone round the world with Magic System,” he said after it was all over, with a broad if tired smile. “But this had nothing to do with those concerts. Here, I was a graduate doing what I know best, sing. Going on stage making thousands of fellow students sing along with me. It was a real communion and I’m still very moved.” Traoré has invested heavily in obtaining the GEMM, including in a memoir on creating an automated system to recuperate copyrights from programs broadcast in public places, with a focus on Africa. “I wanted to come to HEC to show people at home that all is possible. We’re here not to become millionaires, but to return to our communities and be useful, to serve our society, and to the generations to come. My contribution is to try and end these endless quarrels between the music industry and artists over a fair division of the royalties we generate. I’ve started applying my work in pilot projects at home. But I’ve still so much more to learn that I can guarantee you that I’ll return here to HEC in the near future to continue to make my projects evolve.”
PACT students on the steps of the Château with (from left to right): Delphine Colson, Philippe Oster, Gabriella Mazzini, Ambassador of Ivory Coast in France Maurice Kouakou Bandaman, Adama Koné (INP-HB), Martine Coulibaly (Minister-Counsellor at the Ivory Coast Embassy) and Alexis-John Ahyee
For further information on the A’salfo story at HEC, go to HEC Stories (French only).