Three auditoriums at Rotterdam’s De Doelen concert hall were filled with new master graduates and their families and friends from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) during their graduation ceremony on 12 October 2019. Of the cohort of 1,259 successful graduates from 11 of RSM’s master programmes, 833 attended one of the three parallel graduation ceremonies, receiving their degrees in front of around 2,000 guests, and hearing RSM alumni, like them, talking about their experiences and what they learned from their time at RSM.

On their way to the three simultaneous ceremonies, the graduands paraded through the city centre of Rotterdam accompanied by an eight-piece brass band. They were cheered and photographed by passers-by and Saturday shoppers who congratulated them as part of the Rotterdam community.

Acting dean Prof. Dirk van Dierendonck spoke to each of the three audiences to congratulate the new graduates, and advising them to take advantage of their position. He urged them to become strong and flexible in these times of change, and to be a source of inspiration for others. He advised them to ask themselves, from time to time, if indeed they were being agents of positive change. The new graduates join RSM’s growing international alumni network of more than 40,000 individuals, whose careers are tracked in RSM’s annual MSc Employment Report.

Keynote speaker in the Grote Zaal was Alba Tiley, Centrient’s Global Sustainable Antibiotics Director, alumna of RSM’s MSc Strategic Management 2009, and RSM Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2014. She leads the global antibiotics programme at Centrient Pharmaceuticals, working on sustainability and health issues, and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community, a network of young people driving dialogue, action and change. She shared her mistakes and what she learned from them with the graduands.

A broader responsibility

Alba Tiley started her MSc in Strategic Management in 2008. As she sought to make the first step in her career and find an internship, she worried she may have chosen the wrong degree. But eventually she discovered like-minded people and was offered her first job. “It doesn’t matter what master you chose or if it’s the right one or the wrong one,” she said. “I promise that the jobs of the future are not here yet today, and you should not believe people who tell you that you must follow a set path. The primary goal of business is not just about making money; companies have a broader responsibility and so do we.” She concluded that “it doesn’t hurt to be a bit lucky and meet kind people in your journey,” before wishing the new graduates luck.

New MSc Organisational Change and Consulting graduate Caolan Broderick, now associate portfolio success manager with cloud computing service Salesforce, gave the student address to his fellow graduates. He said that his master programme gave him the tools to defy the characterisations of living in a time of polarisation, political instability, and social upheaval, as had the others – from 40 nationalities – in his cohort, “all leaving here in the pursuit of becoming a force for positive change as we take our first steps out into the world during these worrying times. We symbolise a microcosm of the world, a symbol of what we can be, of what we should be,” he said.

A livestream video feed of the ceremony and Alba Tiley’s presentation in the Grote Zaal can be seen here.

Money will never solve real problems

The graduating classes from the MScBA Accounting and Financial Management, and MSc Finance and Investments were presented with their degrees in the Willem Burger Zaal. Keynote speaker here was entrepreneur and investor Korstiaan Zandvliet, founder of Symbid, one of the world’s first equity crowdfunding platforms – ‘with some experience in business and in life’, as he described himself as he congratulated the new graduates. He was responsible for ‘the evaporation of about US$150 million in value’ in his publicly-traded company six years ago when the company lost its executive board, and learned some of life’s most valuable lessons as he bounced back; these he shared with the audience. Making decisions that impact people, planet and profit is a careful balancing act between “between doing things right and doing the right things”. Money will never solve your real problems, he said, and not everyone is as friendly as you thought they might be. The hard truth is that you get you what you deserve. He advocates making deeper connections with people based on love rather than self-enrichment – ‘something that connects all of us’. The graduates’ professional and personal lives would have highs and lows, he said, and advised them to find the truth behind the facts, and to be aware of their economic and natural surroundings. Our perspective of value creation and value destruction should be better aligned with economic models, he said.

The student address was given by Aleksandra Szaniawska (MSc Finance and Investments 2019), associate analyst in Mastercard’s graduate development programme; and Patrick Kerschenbauer (MSc Accounting and Financial Management 2019), a trainee finance controller for the City of Vienna in its smart city project.

Patrick Kerschenbauer said the real reason he was proud to graduate from RSM was because the past year of studies had made him realise what was important to him, and how to align his values and beliefs with his career choices. Once he began hunting for a job, he realised that RSM’s mission, to be a force for positive change in the world, resonated strongly with him – and that’s why he accepted a position with the City of Vienna’s project. He and his fellow graduates have responsibilities to accept and face the challenges of their time such as the climate crisis, political extremism and populism, and increasing wealth gaps. “We can fight and do something about, especially us as beneficiaries of a high class education,” he said. “It is up to us to become that force for positive change.”

Aleksandra Szaniawska said no matter how many ups and downs in the past year – and an amazing experience, she hoped her fellow graduates would feel as she did, that the past year of studies was completely worthwhile.

The speech from Korstiaan Zandvliet and the graduation ceremony in the Willem Burger Zaal can be seen here.

Choose something you like to do

In the third auditorium, the Jurriaanse Zaal, graduates of RSM’s MscBA Master in Management heard keynote speaker Sam van Tol, (MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship 2016) who is founder of CorrectBook, a social enterprise battling against illiteracy in developing countries. The student address was given by Laura Burmanjer (MSc Marketing Management Honours 2019), who recently worked as an assistant co-ordinator for Paris Fashion Week.

Sam van Tol told his story in the hope that it would help the new graduates to make their big decisions; how poverty in South Africa had made such a deep impression on him. Children had nothing to write on in schools. They could only listen to their teachers, and risked being illiterate despite being at school. Conventional paper would last them only a couple of weeks, but Sam devised notebooks of reusable paper – like a whiteboard in notebook form – that would last for years. Correctbook currently helps 25,000 school children to learn to read and write. “When you choose a job, choose something you like to do, not necessarily the thing you are good at. I go to work every day with a lot of happiness,” he said.

Laura Burmanjer delivering the student address spoke of the unexpected opportunities from the past year, which she described as ‘a wild ride’ full of challenges. She noted RSM’s international cohorts, its emphasis on collaboration, and its insistence on academic achievement and positive change. It is up to use to choose the life we want to live, she said, and the impact we want to have.

The speech from Sam van Tol and the graduation ceremony in the Jurriaanse Zaal can be seen here.

The event concluded with a cocktail reception.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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