Braving the wintery conditions across mid-Michigan, 2,019 undergraduate degree candidates and their families filled the Breslin Center on Saturday, December 17 for Michigan State University’s fall commencement ceremony.

Of the undergraduates crossing the stage Saturday, 335 were from the Broad College of Business. The evening before, Michigan State University celebrated its graduate-degree commencement, at which 125 newly minted alumni represented the Broad College.

John Duffey speaking

Broad graduate John Duffey delivers his keynote address during the MSU 2016 fall semester commencement ceremony. Photo by MATTHEW DAE SMITH

JOHN DUFFEY, president and CEO of Six Flags Entertainment Corp. and Broad College of Business alumnus (BA Accounting ’82) served as the commencement speaker, and received an honorary doctorate in business. “John’s authenticity, tenacity, and work ethic inspire others to keep reaching higher while staying grounded and focusing on what matters most,” said Sanjay Gupta, Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean of the Eli Broad College of Business. “His ongoing commitment to the university and Broad College inspire others to make an impact alongside him, and having him representing our community is a true honor. Today, the Broad College is a top 25 B-school, and John’s support has helped get us there,” he said.

In his charismatic address to the students, Duffey told the story of his path to business—which wasn’t his intended career. “I dreamed of being a veterinarian, but sciences classes and I didn’t get along. Even if you’ve changed education paths, with a Michigan State diploma in hand, I think you’ll do ok. Adapting to changing realities is a major part of success. In fact, Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said ‘change is the only constant in life,’ and I think that is so true,” he said.

The concept of “embracing change” while boldly moving forward in life were key themes of Duffey’s inspiring speech.  No stranger to amusement parks, he offered students a metaphor to consider as they take their next steps in life. “Life after college is like a rollercoaster. New realities prove expectations wrong at every turn, and it can be scary. You’ll have to make a choice: get off the express train. Sit and watch others go by…or you can stay on, learn, make adjustments, and enjoy the ride,” he said.

In closing, he shared personal life lessons with students, reminding them through life to get humble, be grateful, and to always remember to give back. “You are part of a unique generation of MSU graduates. You have resources at your fingertips that I could not have imagined back in 1982. Remember as you realize your goals to always give back to your community, nation and, of course, your school. No matter where you go from here, you will always… always be a Spartan.”