Sixty eight students graduated from The School of Hospitality Business at MSU on Saturday, December 19. Afterward, several of them gathered with family, friends, faculty, and staff for The School’s annual “Newest Alumni Celebration” at the University Club. The luncheon featured Alumna Martha Zehnder Keller (BA ’03), vice president of Sales and Marketing at the Bavarian Inn Lodge, as the speaker.

Guests were welcomed by Authella Collins Hawks, director of The School’s Student and Industry Resource Center. She recognized the graduates present who had been active in School events and clubs, as well as the current members of the student-led Hospitality Association which hosted the afternoon’s event. School Director Dr. Michael McCall also gave opening remarks and offered congratulations to the “newest alumni.”

After working at the MSU president’s residence, Cowles House, during college, Martha Zehnder Keller began her career with what was Starwood’s Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. In only eight years, she was promoted six times, becoming the youngest member of the hotel’s Executive Committee and earning numerous awards, personally and for her departments. In 2013 she returned to Frankenmuth, MI to the family’s very successful business and is bringing that same work ethic and professionalism to everything she does. She serves on The School’s Alumni Association Executive Board as secretary/treasurer.

With humor and good fun, Martha acknowledged that most graduates don’t often remember what is said at their graduation. So instead she offered simple and useful tools that could be used immediately as they begin their careers.

First, she said, “Stay involved with The School.” The School has a unique and very active alumni association known not only for supporting The School but each other, as well.

Second, she urged the graduates to “Always wear your name tag.” How can you network and meet people when others can’t read your name or the company you’re with? If it’s on a lanyard, tighten up the string so the name tag is higher on the chest and easily readable, she offered.

Third, “Always have business cards with you.” And always ask for a business card, as well, for easy follow up. Martha reminded the graduates that “Everything in life can be a networking event.”

Fourth, “Smile!” She said, “You can even hear a smile over the phone!” People like people who smile; they want to work with them, be around them, do business with them, and promote them. “It’s one of the simplest things, but it makes a big impact.”

Finally, she said, “Be known as the person that gets things done.” In her own career with Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Chicago, Martha was able to move up quickly because the company could count on her. The same is true at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. She told the graduates that in every case, she “knew how to do my boss’s job before I was promoted into it.”

She closed by encouraging the new alumni to “Have fun!” She said, “Life is too short to waste. Remember that your job is your job. You put your heart and soul in to your work, which is good. But you need to have a life outside of work.” But always be dependable. “Even if you aren’t feeling the best because you may have had a few too many caffeine free Diet Cokes the night before, make sure you are at work the next day, dressed and ready for a full day.

Then, smiling, Martha said that even if they don’t remember a word she said, they will be able to figure things out – after all, they are graduates of The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University!

President of the Hospitality Association Karina Thomas (BA ’16) also offered the graduates congratulations from the HA board. She said, “Don’t get lost in the past or anticipate the future; be in the present time. Stay true to you, strive for excellence and always challenge yourself. If you stay true to what you believe in, the world is your oyster and the opportunities are endless.”

Each graduate was presented with an MSU Alumni license plate border and a laptop case.

“We certainly believe in our students and look forward to what our graduates will accomplish,” says Authella Collins Hawks. “So our Newest Alumni Celebration is one of the ways we send them off with confidence and a sense of support.”

Congratulations to each one!

Photo of Cake Congratulating 2015 Graduates