Graduation is a milestone that marks years of hard work and dedication. For the students of the School of Labor and Employment Relations (LER), this moment is not just about receiving a diploma; it’s about stepping into a world where they can make significant contributions to the labor force, advocate for fair labor practices, and shape the future of employment relations. This year, the LER graduation ceremony was made even more special by the presence of keynote speaker Sarah Krikorian, a wonderfully accomplished alumna.

Sarah Krikorian graduated from the LER program in 1991 when the School was the Institute. She has since built a remarkable career in labor relations and human resources, as she currently serves as the CHRO at the American Lung Association. Her story is one of determination, resilience, and a commitment to improving workplace environments. As she addressed the graduating class, her words resonated deeply, filled with wisdom garnered from years of experience in the field.

“Throughout my career, I’ve drawn from almost every class I took at LER: comparative labor systems, compensation, collective bargaining, dispute resolution, and even the research and statistics course that nearly brought me to my knees.”

Sarah and Ingrid at the LER building

Krikorian reminisced about her time at LER and how she got to where she is today—sharing stories that highlighted the blend of excitement and uncertainty that comes with embarking on a new chapter. She acknowledged the challenges the graduates had faced, particularly those unique to their cohort, which had navigated unprecedented global events and a rapidly evolving job market. Her empathy and understanding created an immediate connection with the audience, setting the tone for an inspiring speech.

She encouraged graduates to embrace change, stay curious, and never shy away from challenges. Sarah spoke about how HR is not a glamorous profession from the outside looking in, but it is rewarding. She went on to say that it plays a crucial role in people’s livelihood, affecting how they spend most of their lives. As someone who grew up with parents who were both in the union, she knew she found her place at LER when she realized she could help make the workplace better, more accessible, and more supported.

“I felt like I belonged. That was my first career lesson—find a place where you feel comfortable in your own skin, and opportunities will follow.”

Sarah Krikorian, CHRO of the American Lung Association

In addition to her professional achievements, Krikorian’s hardships were every bit as inspiring as her successes. After working at Amoco for just short of a decade, the company was acquired and quickly changed leadership styles and culture. She was told she couldn’t be sponsored for a leadership development program because she lacked “edge.” Sarah knew by then that the company wasn’t right for her anymore. This was devastating, but she found her way after heading home and speaking with her past Professor Pete Feuille. Feuille, who eventually became the Dean of LER, helped her regain her confidence and supported her start in the non-union sector.

“When something is hard, you’re probably wired to put your head down and muscle through it. That’s exactly the time to reach out for support.”

The graduates and the crowd were filled with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism as the ceremony concluded. We are incredibly grateful to Sarah for returning to LER to give our graduates a sense of comfort as they embark on their journeys. We couldn’t have asked for a better representative of the program, and we look forward to welcoming her and her family back to LER in the future.