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My Graduation Week in Oxford

Text by Donna Künzler, Images from Donna Künzler and Tom Weller Photography

I officially earned my Postgraduate Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Säid Business School, University of Oxford, back in January 2022. After almost two years of waiting, I finally went to Oxford last July for my graduation week.

It was great to be back in campus. It has been five years since I was there last time, and it was such a highly emotional moment - to finally meet my classmates and professors in the flesh, to be in Oxford itself, and to internalize that I am now an Oxonian and understand what it really means. a

Read on to learn more about my wonderful experience.

The Long Wait

You probably have two questions in mind. First, “What took it so long?” and second, “Why Graduation week and not day?”

There’s only one answer to both questions: It’s because of the pandemic.

Our graduation was delayed for a year as the university had a backlog of graduations from the time of the pandemic. We were actually given the option to hold our graduation earlier but in a different venue. Thankfully majority agreed to postpone so we were able to have our ceremony, as per tradition, at the historic Sheldonian theater.

Our thirteen-month postgraduate program includes four modules that are taught on campus. However, due to the pandemic, the modules were delivered to our class in hybrid format (in-person and online). I, like most students who are based outside of the UK, was only able to attend the modules online. It was a bit unfortunate as we really did miss the full “Oxford” experience.

Too make up for it, Säid Business School organized an additional four days of Reunion Week leading up to our graduation day. The four-day program consisted of keynote speaker sessions, lectures and networking events.

Keynote Speaker Sessions

We had a great line-up of speakers and topics.

It was interesting to listen to Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda on his thoughts on responsible leadership. He emphasized the need for courage, innovation, and resilience in today’s rapidly evolving world.

It was great to see Charlie Curtis (entrepreneur, corporate advisor and business school lecturer) as he was a guest lecturer in our program on the topic of Innovation Cultures. This round he gave a talk on the role of the CEO in global changing systems.

There was also the insightful and interactive panel discussion on Responsible Leadership with Arunma Oteh (former treasurer of World Bank), Hedwige Nuyens (Chief Executive of the International Banking Federation), and Matthew Scott (Executive Director, UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment). The discussion was moderated by Prof. Sue Dopson. A great question that was raised by a student was on self-love. “How do you take care of yourself so you can be a responsible leader?” It goes back again to loving oneself – serve yourself then you can effectively serve others.

A surprise appearance was also made by Toto Wolff, Team Principal, CEO & co-owner of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. His talk was focused on high-performing teams. My key takeaway is that it’s important to know your team, so you understand what motivates them to be able to perform at an optimum level.

What an honor and privilege to be in the presence of the esteemed speakers who have taken the time to be with us amidst their busy schedules.

The Lectures

We happily sat through sessions with 2 familiar faces: Our program directors, Professors Tim Galpin and Teppo Felin. Dr. Galpin gave an informative lecture on Shareholder Activism, while Dr. Felin covered the topic ”Strategy, Uncertainty and A.I.”

We also had a good session on reflecting how our postgrad studies had made an impact on our lives and listened to fellow classmates share developments in their jobs and career as a direct result of our studies.

It was quite a touching moment when, during our session with Dr. Teppo Felin, he presented (and recited) his graduation gift to us which is a poem he wrote titled, “Be Diploma Be.”

I very much enjoyed the simulation exercise called “Patient Zero” on Adaptive Leadership with Dr. Peter Drobac (Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship). It was interesting how we made decisions based on limited information and reap (or suffer!) the consequences.

The Oxford Experience

Apart from the engaging talks, discussions and lectures on upcoming and relevant topics, we were also treated to some experiences that are quite unique to Oxford.

The welcome reception drinks held at the Ashmolean Museum, the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, founded in 1683, was one of a kind.

At the Global Leaders Drinks reception organized by Liz Perkins and the London Oxford Business Alumni, I was awed by the magnificence of Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

The dinner at Keble College was elegant and magical. Keble is one of the biggest colleges at the University of Oxford and has been around since 1870. Colleges and its dining halls always remind me of the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter films. Well, it’s no surprise since Oxford is where numerous Harry Potter scenes were filmed across Oxford's colleges.

Another one for the books was watching a traditional Oxford debate at the Oxford Union Society. Founded in 1823, the Oxford Union is the world's most prestigious debating society with a tradition of hosting internationally prominent individuals across politics, academia, and popular culture.

The Ceremony

The long wait was finally over, the day of the main event has arrived. Our graduation ceremony was held at the majestic Sheldonian theater. Built in 1669 and located in Oxford’s medieval city centre, it is where all public ceremonies of the university are performed.

Spirits were definitely high as graduates and loved ones gathered in one place. What a joy to finally wear the quirky sub fusc for the first (and most likely last) time. I had no idea on how to wear it properly but I think I winged it. At Oxford, sub fuscs are worn during examinations and formal ceremonies.

Dean Soumitra Dutta gave the opening speech, while Associate Dean Kathy Harvey gave the closing speech. Their speeches made me reminisce my postgrad moments and appreciate all the support that I received from everyone (specially my husband) at the time.

What a journey it has been. Who would have thought that this pinay from Cavite will one day be an alumna of the best university in the world?

Never give up on your dreams. Dominus Illuminatio Mea.

Want to read more on Donna’s postgrad journey? Visit her blog here:

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