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HEC Paris Graduation Ceremony 2017: Take-off for the Stars

The truculent former New York mayor Ed Koch used to say to graduates: "The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match, each one of you is a fuse." Well, the fuses certainly seemed to be lit on Friday and Saturday June 10 and 11 2017 at the Jouy-en-Josas campus. That’s where almost 2,000 students from the Grande Ecole, MBA and Executive Education of the HEC Paris business school congregated for the two Graduation Days. A much-anticipated moment of festivity, communion and reflection…

HEC Paris Commencement Ceremony

The Grande Ecole, the Masters, the MBA, the Executive MBA, the Executive Masters and the PhD graduates, were all united under the huge marquis outside the Hall d’Honneur  draped in traditional attire. Indeed, it was back in 1882 that HEC Paris first marked this rite of passage. And many of the keynote messages to the graduates seemed to echo the words of Paul Freund, that American jurist who marked the 20th century with his writings on the US Constitution:

"At commencement you wear your square-shaped mortarboards. My hope," Paul Freund added, "is that from time to time you will let your minds be bold, and wear sombreros."

"Change the World"

Around 4,500 proud parents, family members and friends came in from the entire world to see their children or close ones celebrate this communion. Some had traveled from as far as Greece (overland), Scotland, the US and Côte d’Ivoire to share this graduation experience. They applauded loudly the words of Dean Peter Todd: "Do well by doing good,” he proclaimed from the altar with solemnity. "You have been given much privilege by society, you now have a responsibility to give back, by bringing justice and social responsibility to our world."

Each year, keynote speakers are there to inspire students for this new departure, mainly into the professional world. Last year, Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber delivered a memorable speech which went on to become one of Youtube’s most popular videos in the higher educational genre. This year’s speakers were also hugely-successful HEC graduates, Henri de Castries and Sylvia Métayer. At Friday’s graduation ceremony, the former Director General of AXA insurance company offered strong messages of advice to the graduates: "The world has changed since I was a student here," de Castries insisted, "but the way to navigate and build a successful life has not changed. I would like to share four tips to lead a fulfilling life: change the world, be curious, be outgoing and collective, and be yourself." 

The following day, Sodexo Director General Sylvia Métayer threw down the gauntlet to the graduates: "I have four dares for you: my first dare is to, make generosity a foundational principle; secondly, dare to accept failure; my third dare is to put human beings at the heart of economic progress, because there is a desire for the model to change; and my final dare, the biggest one of all, is to be you, vibrantly, passionately you." 

Friday’s ceremony ended with an unexpected student-made film version of Star Wars, which co-starred Dean Peter Todd and Eloïc Peyrache. Its pleasantly quirky nature brought the house down and fulfilled a "childhood fantasy" for the latter: acting the role of a Jedi.

After the ceremonies, the students and their guests enjoyed a celebratory cocktail in front of the Hall d’Honneur  under a dazzling June sun. A perfect lift-off, or “Commencement” of a new chapter in the graduates’ lives.

Relive the memorable moments of the HEC Paris Graduation Ceremony!