Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

After graduating during a pandemic, students can accomplish anything, says Libby O’Donoghue

After graduating during a pandemic, students can accomplish anything, says Libby O’Donoghue

“You’re still a Loyola Rambler. Don’t let this situation take any ounce of this momentous achievement,” says LIbby O’Donoghue in her digital send-off for the Class of 2020.

Libby O’Donoghue (EMBA ’20) is an avid biker, wife and mother, business leader, and Minnesotan at heart. She is also proud to complete a graduate program that she almost didn’t start.

But because she persisted in her EMBA program, she gained some powerful insights.

“The thing that will stick with me, and I hope with most of us, is the role that values play to guide us in our lives, relationships, leadership, and future business decisions,” says O’Donoghue, the director of account management for FreeWheel. “Being in touch with our values allows us to bring our whole selves to everything we do, making for a much richer experience for ourselves and those around us.”

Reflections from the Class of 2020

To celebrate the Class of 2020, O’Donoghue and other Quinlan students created brief digital send-offs discussing Loyola, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their hopes for the future. Watch O’Donoghue’s message:

Watch messages from other graduating Quinlan students →

A rocky start

O’Donoghue’s first EMBA class was nearly her last. Looking back, she says, “Within the first hour, I was certain I was in class with a bunch of geniuses. There were countless acronyms, techniques, and theories they were bringing up that I’d never even heard of. Coming from the tech world with no financial background, I was thinking that I wouldn’t be able to keep up and that I don’t really belong here.”

During the first class break, O’Donoghue started considering leaving the program.

“I stood waiting for the elevator, feeling very discouraged and wondering how I was going to explain to my family that I quit grad school on the first day.”

However, a fateful encounter changed her mind. “As the elevator opened, a man stepped out, looked me dead in the eye and shouted ‘Hello!’ then walked on. I now know that was Professor Mike Welch. As I stepped into the elevator, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know who that man was. I don’t even know if he’s sane. But, what I do know is that he made me feel like I belong here.’”

Bringing her whole self to class

As she continued in the EMBA program, O’Donoghue tried to mold herself into her impression of what a business student should be: analytical, driven, straightforward. She felt keenly the difference between her background and her classmates’ backgrounds. While she came from the technology industry, many of her classmates were in finance.

“I was exhausted trying to live up to what I perceived a business student should be, and honestly, I was not doing as well as I knew I could be doing in school,” says O’Donoghue. “So, I thought maybe I’ll start bringing my (as Professor Welch calls it) ‘whole self’ to class. And that really was the tipping point I needed that pushed me to success here.”

O’Donoghue had experienced a critical insight: the importance of the human element in school – and in business.

She dedicates her degree to her father, who died one year before she started the EMBA program. “This is for him. And I will pass his value of education on to my two boys, Teddy and Auggie.”  

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