Nevena Divic and T.J. McDermott hold a plaque

Nevena Divic and T.J. McDermott

Over 200 seniors graduated from The School of Hospitality Business at MSU in Spring 2014, and 61 of them joined with their family members, friends, and faculty for The School’s Newest Alumni Celebration.  A total of 301 guests gathered at the University Club for a brunch planned and presented by SIRC Director Authella Collins Hawks and her hand-picked staff members.  The School’s student organization, the Hospitality Association (HA), covered the cost for each graduate.

This particular celebration was especially poignant.  No fewer than five faculty and staff members had sons or daughters graduating from MSU that day.  Two of them had daughters graduating from The School! Lena Loeffler, Alumni Relations and Development specialist, is mom to Kristina (BA Hospitality Business ’14), and Associate Professor Jeff Elsworth is dad to Molly (BA Hospitality Business ’14).  Together, Lena and Jeff delivered a unique graduation address.

In addition, it was the last graduation celebration for Dr. Ron Cichy, who, after 26 years, is stepping aside as director of The School on August 15.

The event began with a welcome from Mrs. Hawks, who recognized the energetic student leaders of The School’s three events and eight clubs, as well as the SIRC staff.  She introduced the faculty and staff members present.  And, presenting her with two dozen red roses, Mrs. Hawks thoughtfully thanked Dr. Cichy’s wife, Shelley, for standing beside and with The School for 26 years, and serving as its writer/editor for 12 of those years.

Then in a big surprise for the couple, HA CEO

(BA Hospitality Business ’14), Auction CEO Ariel Lessens (BA Hospitality Business ’14), and CAREER EXPO CEO Jessica Munoz (BA Hospitality Business ’14), presented donations from each of their organizations to the Ronald F. and Shelley G. Cichy Endowment for Hospitality Business Student Leaders.  Les Gourmets also donated to the $5,000 total.  The Endowment is designed to support students who enroll in and complete the Dale Carnegie Course®.  Each of the young women has graduated from the 12-week course.

Introducing Dr. Cichy, Mrs. Hawks cited his energy, tirelessness, and “obsession” with making The School and its students the very best they can be.

In his remarks to the graduates, Dr. Cichy first said, “On your graduation day, when you are the center of attention, perhaps we can stop and think for a minute about the support of your family, and the coaching and encouragement from your professors.”  He encouraged the graduates to turn to these individuals and give them a round of applause.

Dr. Cichy also recalled the words of Ralph Nichols, a Michigan franchisee for the Dale Carnegie Course®.  He told the students as they enter their careers to “Picture yourself walking into water when the surf is rolling in.  If we try to stand and push ourselves forward, we encounter resistance, and we get knocked down.  On the other hand, if we time the waves and we dive in, we reach our goals faster.  As you leave MSU, remind yourself in whatever job your boss or supervisor gives you, DIVE IN!”

Dr. Cichy then reflected on his years as Director, and acknowledged, without being self-congratulatory, some of the more “quantifiable” measures of success for The School over that time.  He also talked about trying hard to always keep “what is best for The School” uppermost in his mind at all times, which informed his actions and decisions for 26 years.

Jeff Elsworth and Lena Loeffler

Jeff Elsworth and Lena Loeffler

It is a tradition in The School that alumni, faculty, or staff members who have a child graduating from The School serve as speakers for the Newest Alumni Celebration.  Therefore, Jeff Elsworth and Lena Loeffler teamed up for a memorable and lighthearted trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the graduates’ first through fourth years as Spartans, including the winning Homecoming Floats, the award-winning student clubs, the trips to New York for Celebration of Leadership, and of course, the Big Ten football and basketball championships their senior year and the Rose Bowl victory.  They spoke of the 2014 polar vortex, which not only delayed the start of Spring semester but for the very first time required adverse weather planning by the Auction Executive Board (yes, Dr. Elsworth DID don his winter cap and wield his ice scraper for this part of the speech).

They encouraged the graduates to join the Alumni Association and stay in touch with The School. Lena then gave sage advice: “The six most important words are “I admit I made a mistake.”  The five most important words are, “You did a good job.”  The four most important words are “What is your opinion?”  The three most important words are “If you please.” The two most important words are “Thank you.” And the most important word is “We.”

Dr. Elsworth spoke of his own career in the restaurant industry, noting that every company he worked for over the years was led by Spartans, graduates of The School.  “I began to think, ‘there must be something good going on at Michigan State,’” he said.  So when he got the opportunity to come to MSU and teach after going back to school and earning his Ph.D. at Purdue, he jumped at the chance.  And now his daughter is graduating!

Hospitality Association CEO and president of the Real Estate Investment Management Club Nevena Divic spoke movingly to her peers about living a balanced life, creatively using the words to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  She said as youngsters life was an easy row, and as they grew, things perhaps got harder, priorities changed, and awareness grew of problems in the world.  But they grew, got into MSU, learned the words to the Fight Song, how to do laundry without Mom, and The School’s classes were great.  But as the years went on, “Rowing down the Red Cedar sometimes felt like white water rafting,” she said, with harder classes, leadership positions, interviewing, and “trying to figure out what to do with our lives.”

At the end of all that rowing, Nevena said, it may seem like you work hard for years – through highs school, college, career – to find happiness in the end.  But, she urged, pay more attention to “the middle part.”  In fact, borrowing from another nursery rhyme, the “Tortoise and the Hare,” Nevena said that to her, the hare is the wise one.  He stopped along the way to smell flowers and enjoy life.  “Take a break from paddling, stop racing,” and remember to “find happiness in a small corner of your world.”

Next year’s HA CEO Jeff Keller (BA ’15) then introduced the Outstanding Seniors, voted on by their classmates: Nevena Divic and T.J. McDermott (BA Hospitality Business ’14), who served as HA Director of Philanthropy this year. Nevena will begin her career in Bethesda, MD as a financial analyst for Pebblebrook Hotel Trust.   T.J., another Dale Carnegie graduate, will begin his career as a financial analyst in the asset management department at White Lodging in Merrillville, IN.  Earlier in the week, graduating senior Ariel Lessens won First Place Prize and a $100 Visa® Gift Card in the Broad College’s Peer Recognition Award competition.  The Peer Recognition Award is designed to honor outstanding seniors in the Broad College and is voted on by fellow seniors. In addition to serving as Destination Auction Sweet Escapes CEO her senior year, Ariel was also president of the award-winning Eta Sigma Delta, the hospitality management honor society.  Ariel will begin her career with Hilton Worldwide in Portland, at the Portland Downtown and Executive Tower – the largest hotel in Oregon – in the Management Development Program.

At the close of the celebration, each graduate proceeded to the podium for an individual “Congratulations” and photo with Dr. Cichy, and a parting gift from HA.

The brunch celebration was a memorable and moving way to send the graduates off, who moved from the University Club to Breslin Center for commencement ceremonies.  Best wishes and good luck to all the new alumni! Please come to visit us!