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EMI Commencement - A 'Family' Celebration

(l/r) Eli Cryderman, Stephanie Sandefur and Kristi Sanders present a gag gift to Year I instructor Kent Baker. 

Nine Year IV students of TRSA’s Ehrlich-Stempler Executive Management Institute (EMI) graduated on Aug. 10 during the 53rd annual commencement of this training program that’s admired not only for the knowledge it imparts on an array of topics, but also for the family-like bonds it forges among students.

“What it really boils down to is the individuals that are with you in that room,” said EMI graduate Will Gore of Lord Baltimore Uniform. His nautical-theme tie and deck shoes underscored the mix of frivolity and solemnity that typifies EMI commencement dinner programs. “Looking around here, these are guys that I will know for the rest of my life. And it’s that - you may not realize it now - that these are the kinds of relationships that you can count on one hand. You have a real deep bond and connection.”

Several speakers at the commencement echoed these themes of EMI as family, while also expressing gratitude to the EMI faculty, the individual companies who sign up their executives for the program and to TRSA for sponsoring this four-year training initiative.

The other key element of the program was a kind of “celebrity roast” approach in which many of these same figures, including the faculty, students and TRSA staff were the source of good-natured jibes, jokes and wisecracks. In line with EMI’s “open mic” tradition, which stretches back decades, the Year I students staged a humorous skit with a “name that tune” format. They played a few seconds of songs from artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and asked attendees not only to guess the tune and artist, but to identify how it relates to the EMI experience. For the Smokey Robinson tune, “Tears of a Clown,” Year I student Eli Cryderman of Gurtler Industries Inc. poked fun at the Year III students, asking “You know what the miracle is? … That they might graduate.”

EMI Dean Kent Baker told the attendees that it’s important that learning should be fun. Moreover, a sense of humor - especially at the commencement event - is part of the EMI experience. Baker, a professor at American University who has run EMI since 1976, remarked that overseeing the program is a task he looks forward to each summer. “My wife says, ‘You’ve been doing this for 40 years, aren’t you tired of coming to EMI?’  Nothing could be further from the truth,” Baker said. “EMI is one of the most important things that I do every year, and the greatest joy I get from it is frankly, being with you. This is not work. This is a pleasure.”

Several attendees thanked Baker for his long service to the program, and the Year I students gave him a gag gift: a spring covered in round post-it-style notes. The joke behind the gift was a play on the term “Think outside the Box,” a well-known “Bakerism.” With the gift, students can “spring outside the box,” quipped Stephanie Sandefur, a Year I student from Morgan Services Inc., Indianapolis.

Year II students gave a similarly humorous/personalized gift to their instructor, Consultant Jim Kroncke – an autographed blue-and-white basketball from his favorite college team, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Jay Rasmussen, a Year II student from AmeriPride Services Inc., noted that obtaining the basketball on short notice took several personal calls, but it was worth it to recognize “Coach” Kroncke. “We all signed it because we are your team, Year II” Rasmussen said. “You are a fabulous coach. And that guy was able to get us this ball straight from Chapel Hill (NC) to this stage in 24 hours. Thank you Jim.”

Similar thanks were expressed by Year III students and their two instructors, Consultants Jim Underwood and Joe Currier. Because of its size, the Year III group was split in two and each instructor taught one group of students. Year III is regarded as one that delves into attendees’ individual personalities, sometimes in ways that raise difficult questions about management styles. Nonetheless, most find the experience valuable. Several students gave one word (or phrase) descriptions of the program, including “life changing,” “powerful,” transforming,” “grateful,” and “soulful.” One student said - with a touch of wry humor - “We are badass.”

TRSA President and CEO Joseph Ricci closed the program, noting that in his eight years of leading TRSA, he’s experienced firsthand how EMI creates strong relationships among the students. “Every year I come here I’m always touched by the bonding that goes on,” Ricci said. “To me, it’s the most important thing you take away from here. When you come here you feel like you’re part of an industry and part of a family. Part of a team.”

Gore described his experience of Year IV as an inspiring way to cap off the EMI experience. “This whole week was a great celebration,” he said. “We have that ‘pillar’ of advice. So guess what? Who am I going to call if I have a question? I’m going to call one of these guys.”

The 2017 EMI program drew nearly 90 attendees for years I-IV. This year's EMI was conducted jointly with another TRSA educational initiative, the Roger F. Cocivera Production Management Institute (PMI). The two programs ran from Aug. 6-10 as separate initiatives, but they were based at the same location, the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, Hyattsville, MD. The center is adjacent to the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, MD. The two groups of students teamed up for social events, including meals an evening tour of Washington DC monuments. Click here to learn more about EMI; click here to learn more about PMI.