Penn State president emeritus joins Smeal Executive MBA students in celebration

July 25, 2014

About 30 students celebrated their completion of the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program last month in a pre-commencement ceremony held at the Business Building on Penn State’s University Park campus, with former University President Rodney Erickson delivering the commencement speech.

Erickson talked about the transformative power of education in his life, from his roots in rural Wisconsin to the presidency of one of the world’s largest universities. He also emphasized the importance of having a strong set of core values to guide decision-making.

“As future business leaders, you will undoubtedly face your own zigs and zags, and people will be relying on you to make difficult choices,” Erickson told the class of 2014. “At those moments, let your education and, even more importantly, your core values guide you. Remember that you will always serve best by making your decisions based on integrity, ethics and taking responsibility.”

Michelle Palmer, the class of 2014 valedictorian, reflected on Erickson’s speech, expressing appreciation for his participation in the ceremony.

“What I recall most vividly from Dr. Erickson was how genuine and open he was, both before the ceremony and during the speech itself,” said Palmer. “His speech got me thinking about really living life up to the end.”

“I chose to pursue my EMBA to expand my knowledge base and skill sets to improve my ability to make a meaningful contribution to those that I work with and for at my company.”

-- Michelle Palmer, Class of 2014 valedictorian, Smeal Executive MBA Program

Palmer, who works as the area director of senior living for Bayada Home Health Care, has a strong background in the medical profession with an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in physical therapy. As her career evolved, so did her interest in the organizational aspects of her work.

“I found myself drawn to opportunities and challenges around strategy, operations, organizational dynamics, and leadership—areas of interest that I was exposed to more frequently as my career developed,” Palmer said. “I chose to pursue my EMBA to expand my knowledge base and skill sets to improve my ability to make a meaningful contribution to those that I work with and for at my company.”

Through the 21-month program, the cohort of students faced a number of challenges, including balancing work and home life with a rigorous academic program. But in the end, the feeling of accomplishment that Palmer describes was shared among members of the class.

“At the end of our last class with Al Vicere [professor of strategic leadership], everyone stood up and started clapping for each other,” said Palmer. “It was such a great feeling of shared accomplishment and acknowledgement of what we had all just achieved.”

At the pre-commencement ceremony, the graduating class shared that feeling with their family and friends.

As Erickson said in his closing remarks to the class, “Even though you’ll be working hard in your new endeavors … sharing success with those we love is always much more meaningful.”

About the Smeal Executive MBA Program
The Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program provides working professionals with the learning, connections, resources, and experiences to accelerate their careers. The 21-month program features personalized executive coaching, intensive communication training, a weeklong international residency experience, and coursework focused on the unique challenges of the students’ firms. Classes are held on alternating weekends at the ACE Conference Center in suburban Philadelphia. Learn more at

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Last Updated July 28, 2014