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Class of 2024 celebrates Commencement with keynote speaker Chioma Aduba, President of Droga5

members of the class of 20 24 on the steps outside of a Church

The most recent batch of Brandcenter students have officially joined our family of alumni. On Friday May 10th, our graduating class, Brandcenter faculty and staff, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2024 at our annual commencement ceremony. We were lucky to have special guests Chioma Aduba, President of Droga5, and Hillary Rogers, Managing Director of Magnetic Field and Brandcenter Director’s Council member, join the festivities and help send our graduates off in style.

Brandcenter Executive Director Vann Graves delivered welcoming remarks. He congratulated the graduates on their hard work and dedication and encouraged them to embrace the moment. “What a day. Sixty weeks ends today. You’ve done it. We’re all here to celebrate you and this day is yours…Have fun, make noise, take lots of pictures. It’s okay to dance, laugh, and cry because it’s a celebration.” 

hillary rogers, vann graves, and chioma aduba in regalia smiling at the camera
(From left) Hillary Rogers, Vann Graves, and Chioma Aduba

Special guest and emcee Hillary Rogers, Managing Director of Magnetic Field, shared some of her career and life experience. She left students with a touching reminder about the bonds they have created during their time here and how important it is to maintain those relationships. “There’s something very special that is born in your relationships when you experience this pressurized environment together. You will always know each other in a very unique way. You will know you can depend on each other and you can call on one another. Answer that call. Make that call. Give your opinion and support when asked. Recommend each other. Keep this connection. Be someone who contributes to your network and expands your network.” 

In her keynote address, Chioma Aduba, President of Droga5, drew from her two decades of experience to give the Class of 2024 insight into the career path ahead of them. She spoke of the importance of hard work, determination, and finding people and companies whose values align with your own, in addition to addressing some current trends and questions circulating in the industry.

Aduba first congratulated the Class of 2024 on their achievement, “The Brandcenter has nurtured some of the finest creative talents in our industry, individuals who have gone on to tackle the challenges facing our most iconic brands and even address societal issues confronting the world at large. Your Brandcenter degree will open countless doors. I urge you to walk through them with confidence.”

She then shared invaluable insights discovered throughout her career and education. As a college athlete with exceptional athletic talent who started seeing teammates outperform her, Aduba came to “a humbling realization: you can outwork talent.” Hard work and discipline are key. She went on, “The truth is, as you transition from amateur to the big stage in any field, your talent matters less and less. It becomes the baseline because everybody has it. The true difference-maker is what you do with it and the discipline you apply…..if I’ve achieved anything in the professional field it has far more to do with working hard and working smart than it does with any natural gifts.”

Aduba joined the Droga5 team last year, and she addressed the vulnerable side of transitioning into new roles and companies. “Life and work have taught me that everything you want is on the other side of fear. Fear is a useful tool; it keeps us safe, but it also acts as a signpost, showing us where we need to grow. In your career you will meet a number of crossroads. Some will make you question your capability, ‘do I have what it takes?’ Some will leave you asking about your readiness, ‘Is now the time?’ The voices and the questions will never end. The simple fact that you are being tapped for opportunity should give you your answer. Sometimes the outside world perceives you in ways that you could never see yourself. Learn to quiet the question and any voices or self-doubt. Do the things you’re afraid of; otherwise, you’ll stay in the same place your whole life.”

Aduba left us with thoughts on some current trends in the ad industry such as companies moving in-house and the recent boom in AI tools. Aduba encouraged optimism and openness.  “Our field is resilient and filled with creative individuals who not only reinvent brands but also themselves…when the winds of change begin to blow, embrace what lies ahead. Don’t resist or fight it; be the first to understand and adapt. In both your personal and professional life, you’ll find that while change can be difficult, it is often your friend.”

The graduate selected by their fellow classmates as our student speaker was Debashish Dumbre (Copywriting, 2024), and his speech “A Confused Thank You” is one for the books.  Brandcenter faculty member Holly Hessler introduced Dumbre with her usual charisma and command of the room. She told a charming anecdote about having Dumbre in her class for the first time and how excited he was to be there. She joked thinking that the excitement couldn’t last over the Brandcenter sixty weeks, but then emphasized “It never changed. Deba remains one of the most excited people to be here, to do work that he loves to do, to work with every single one of you, to take on every single challenge he can find.” 

Dumbre took the stage and delivered an incredibly touching tribute to his time at Brandcenter. Threading the theme “life can make sense, and yet at the same time, life can be confusing” throughout his speech, Dumbre created a beautiful picture of his experience at Brandcenter. He bragged about the wonderfully varied and talented backgrounds of the Class of 2024, joked about off-the-wall assignments, and told us how Brandcenter changed his life. “I came here imagining myself to be better than I actually was. I leave this place better than I ever imagined myself to be.”

image of all the grads sitting in pews

He further explains the transformation of his self-identity at Brandcenter. “[I had] this idea that I had to be a certain way because of who I was. That I had to meet these expectations I imagined for myself because of where I am from. That I had to speak a certain way, because I looked the way I did. And maybe some of you feel the same as I did too. Brandcenter is confusing precisely because it’s a place that makes us reject who we think we need to be; and learn to embrace who we are.”

Leaving Mumbai to attend Brandcenter two years ago was one of the hardest experiences of his life. He said “I said goodbye to family, friends, and a home I had known for 24 years of my life. It was the toughest decision I ever made, and to feel the weight in my heart that I did back then, made sense.” Leaving Brandcenter this May elicited confusing feelings, but, yet again, it also makes sense to Dumbre. He said “Today, I say goodbye to friends, peers, mentors, and a home I have only known for two years. And that’s not a long time, I suppose. But there’s the same weight in my heart that I felt back then [in Mumbai]. And I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because to feel what I do for you today, I don’t think that’s confusing at all. To the Brandcenter faculty, staff, families and loved ones, and the wonderfully confusing 70 graduating students present here today, I’m Debashish Dumbre. Thank you for the best two years of my life.”

Derek Martin (Strategy, 2024) was awarded with the Brandcenter Initiative Award. Brandcenter faculty member Kevin Rothermel presented the award which is received by a student who has made a significant contribution to the Brandcenter experience, inspiring both their faculty and peers with their work, their work ethic, and their overall professionalism, while maintaining an outstanding academic record.

Kevin described Derek’s charismatic personality. “Derek lights up the room. His work ethic, positivity, and sense of humor make him someone that anyone would want on their team….Derek Martin is one of the kindest people you will ever meet, he’s been an absolutely wonderful student, and he’s no doubt going to go on to a brilliant career.” 

Congratulations to the Brandcenter Class of 2024. It’s been a privilege and an honor to be a part of your journey, and we cannot wait to see where life takes you next!

You can watch a video of the ceremony here.

brandcenter faculty holding out arms and smiling

Photos by McNair Evans