Maria’s Valedictorian Speech for her Richmond MBA

“Three years ago to the very day I was in this same hall as a guest at the same ceremony. A Bulgarian girl whose parents couldn’t come had invited me to attend her graduation. And if back then somebody had suggested that three years down the road I would end here, I would have classified him as “a raving lunatic”. But life is much more interesting and unexpected than we can imagine.

I came to Richmond as a “diplomatic wife”, with refined skills in balancing a glass and plate at receptions and talking about the weather. As I suspected that these skills wouldn’t impress anyone at the university, I had developed my “perfect little strategy” for the first lecture in marketing: come to the lecture, hide behind the back of the other students, go back home and tell my husband “Listen, it’s not for me.”

Yes, you have guessed right – my strategy didn’t work. Those who have studied here will know why. Richmond has developed the perfect little strategy not to let anybody hide behind anybody’s back. And now, two years after that first marketing class which I survived largely on the practical knowledge from my failed business back home, between two postings, now I know much more about success and failure, how to distinguish between the two and transform one into the other (preferably failure into success and not vice versa).

Richmond broadened our picture of the world and stretched us to fit better into that picture.  Mihail Lomonosov, a Russian scientist once said that students should be seen as torches to be lit, not as vessels to be filled in. Now is the time to thank faculty and staff for treating us in this way, for being not just a source of knowledge but a real inspiration.

The diversity of Richmond is a real goldmine, which enriched us beyond belief. Going through the joys and the pains of a cross-cultural team teaches one much more about the world than any diplomatic posting or any book by Hofstede and Trompenaars. For example, I could never understand the theory of “multiple focus” as a time dimension. But when I saw a girl on my team write an email, speak to her boyfriend on the mobile and at the same time contribute to the case study we were doing – all at the same time – then I understood what multiple focus is. Work on a cross-cultural team helped us understand others’ attitude to time, space, deadline (a nerve-racking experience, as you can guess).  But at the same time it taught me that other people can forget their deadlines to come and help me with my Powerpoint presentation. I would like to say thank you to all my friends and colleagues, thank you for your help. Working with you was a wonderful experience.

I believe that if the cross-cultural understanding and support we experience here in Richmond had been universal, we would have never heard of any conflict in the Balkans or anywhere else. (The name of the Balkans is on my mind, because I come from that region and my heart sinks every time I hear it mentioned.)

Richmond changes us. It changed the way we see ourselves, we see others, we see the world. It even changed the way we dream. After I accepted this speech, I had that dream of how I am terrified and want to “undo” the decision. But the little “undo” arrow wasn’t working. I thought it was strange. I never dream like that. I used to dream of fairy godmothers who would fix things for me, not a computer. But from my colleagues I understood that there are even worse cases. One of them told me of his nightmare: he highlighted himself, cut himself out and woke up before he could paste himself somewhere else. Poor chap! (I did translate Steven King horror stories into Bulgarian in the past, but I assure you, we could teach him a lesson or two.)

Now it is over and I can go back to my poor neglected children (and husband, here in the audience). It is over and at the same time it is just about to begin. The real thing. Because Richmond not only changed the way we dream, it changed the scope of our dreams. It gave us the confidence to dream. Let’s dream, even if others think of us as “raving lunatics”. Let’s dream and make our dreams come true with computers, or fairy godmothers (if your prefer the old-fashioned way). Let’s go out and change this world, just a little. ”

13th May 1999


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