Update: The speech is available in video here (YouTube).
Good afternoon, Deans, staff and faculty, family and friends, alumni, and most especially — good afternoon class of December 2018!
My name is Mogbekeloluwa Koye-Ladele (everyone calls me Koye for obvious reasons), and I was born in Ibadan, an old town in the south of Nigeria. Last December, I moved away from home to start a year at INSEAD that has turned out to be the most challenging — and yet the best year of my life. I know this is also true for many people in my class, and I am grateful to now have the difficult job of trying to sum up this amazing year.
The past few weeks have been full of emotion. We have applauded our professors for the last time, hugged each other goodbye, and maybe even cried a few times. This year was beautiful and filled with good things — learning, friendships, opportunity — and it is difficult to leave. Today is very special, because it marks a bittersweet yet hopeful end to the incredible year we have shared. More than that, it also marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our lives, with new perspectives, new challenges, and new dreams.
Before we continue, however, I have the privilege to convey our appreciation to the many people who have made this year special.
Whether here in France, Singapore, or at home across the world — our partners have contributed immensely to the INSEAD experience. I had the opportunity to go through this year with my wife, Busola, through whom I met many delightful partners. Thank you for all your support, 18D partners. Special shout out to the cute INSEAD babies: those who were here this year, those who were conceived this year, and those whose parents met this year.
I would also like to thank our loved ones. My mother and Busola’s mother came from Nigeria to be here today — like many of our families have, and that is really special. It takes a village — like we say in Africa, and many of us have relied heavily on friends and family outside the INSEAD bubble this year. Whether they are here today or not, I am certain they are proud of us — and we are grateful to them.
To the delightful staff and faculty of INSEAD! From providing career coaching to booking appointments with dentists — surely it must be difficult to coordinate hundreds of energetic MBA students. Yet, the amazing people at INSEAD make it look easy and do it with warm smiles. Thank you, thank you very much! I often sat in amphitheaters and wondered at the brilliance and diverse experiences of my classmates. Standing here today, I realize the flip side of all that brilliance and diversity is that it must be difficult to teach at INSEAD. Thank you, Professors, for all that you do! You are among the finest in the world and it was a real pleasure to learn from you.
Because this is such a pivotal moment, I have been reflecting a lot on the past and looking to the future.
I wanted to be a pilot as a child. Many of my books were about children in other countries and I wanted to get on a plane and fly to all those countries. I wanted to see how they lived, where their parents worked, and what they ate. I would often sit outside and wave to planes as they passed above our house, imagining the passengers could see me if they looked out the window. Nigeria is a big and mostly self-contained country though, and we did not need to fly anywhere. In fact, I did not get on a plane or travel to another country at all until I was 23.
Time passed and my dreams evolved. I went on to study Mechanical Engineering, but I was drawn to goods and services people use often to improve the quality of their lives so I started a career in the Consumer Goods industry. However, I never stopped looking up at the planes and eventually looking down from them — and wondering about the world outside. I wanted to travel across the world, learn about humanity, and ponder our shared future with people who had grown up elsewhere.
Therefore, when it was time to choose a business school, I had a relatively straightforward choice. I was drawn to a melting pot, to a small village frozen in time where cultures from 74 countries could fuse and meld together, where almost everyone shared my curiosity about the world and was seeking to understand their place in it. I was drawn to you. I was drawn to the INSEAD spirit.
The INSEAD spirit is curious. That curiosity drew us here from all over: from Australia, Brazil, Senegal, and Serbia; from corporate jobs and research laboratories, from battlefields even — to learn about business, ourselves, and our world. That curiosity drove us to ask questions and challenge our biases inside and outside the classroom, pushing us to become better and well-rounded individuals. As we look to the future, I hope we never lose our sense of wonder. I hope we never stop asking tough questions of ourselves and others.
The INSEAD spirit is friendly and welcoming, and 18D embodied this spirit to the fullest. We embodied it as we formed strong bonds on weekend trips, at music jams, and over fuzzball games at Freddy’s. When Busola fell ill while I was away on a study trip, our friend from INSEAD — Callie — went with her to the hospital and stayed until she was well. We even gave practice interviews to people who were applying for the same jobs as us! This year will fade into a blur at some point and we will forget all about Queuing Models and Linear Regression (sorry Theos), but many of us will still be friends forever — and that might be what counts the most.
The INSEAD spirit is generous and fun. It drove us to work through the cold in Fontainebleau and the rain in Singapore to build playgrounds for children. It drove us to raise funds for the Robin Hood campaign to help deserving candidates get an education that can change their lives. It drove us to laugh wildly at the jokes during Applesauce, even when we were not sure they were all funny. It reminds us that business does not have to be war, that it does not have to be so serious all the time.
The INSEAD spirit promotes interconnectedness and diversity. When you bring together people from all over: Pakistanis and Indians, Ukrainians and Russians, Americans and Mexicans — walls come down and magical things happen. We have explored mountains and islands, designed non-profits, and started businesses together. At a time when nationalism seems to be advancing again and globalization is under threat, the INSEAD spirit calls out with the reminder that we are stronger together.
I spoke a few times this year about how I have had to be lucky many times to be standing here. If someone had told me when I was eleven and looking up at those planes that I would someday study at this fine business school, I would have laughed them off. I have had to work very hard to be here, but I have also been privileged to be in the right place at the right time and to benefit from the kindness of others. I am grateful for the INSEAD scholarship program, the donors who give to INSEAD, and in my case — for Olam International.
Class of December 2018, your journey may have been very different from mine, but you are privileged too — even if you don’t feel so sometimes.
That causes me to wonder about my — and in fact our — responsibility to the world as we leave INSEAD with our shiny new diplomas. After all, to whom much is given, from him — or her — much shall be expected.
I thought hard about this, seeking something deep and profound to share with you today. In the end, I found that it is quite simple. We owe it to ourselves and to INSEAD to be missionaries of the INSEAD spirit: to spread the bug of curiosity, open-mindedness, innovation, friendship, and our belief in interconnectedness and diversity. We owe it to ourselves to leverage our learning, privilege, and networks — to go back into the world and deploy business as a force for good.
It is hard to walk away from this amazing year and this beautiful place. I used to judge alumni for describing it as the best year of their lives, but now I understand. All good things come to an end though, and the world awaits. Today’s challenges cannot be solved with yesterday’s thinking or approaches, and the world awaits you and me — bold leaders who understand that business has a responsibility to society; that you should not have to choose between making profits and doing what is right for our planet, its people, and its resources.
As we go on, 18D, we can do better than look back on this year as the best year of our lives. Let us make it the start of the best years of our lives. Let us set out to pursue our wildest dreams, confident in our ability to achieve whatever we set ourselves to and knowing we have a community of over 500 people across the planet cheering us on.
This is not goodbye, class of December 2018, this is see you again soon.