Boston chef, cookbook author, and CEO Barbara Lynch delivered the keynote speech at the Sawyer Business School Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 21, 2016.

A James Beard Award-winner and Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, Lynch is considered one of Boston's—and the country’s—top chefs and restaurateurs. As CEO of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, she oversees the operations of eight concepts and employs over 200 people. In addition to running her company, Barbara has always recognized the importance of giving back to the community and has been involved in a number of philanthropic programs over the years. In 2012, in an effort to make a more direct impact, she established the Barbara Lynch Foundation.

An incredibly successful woman in highly competitive field, Lynch shared some of her wisdom with this year’s graduates.

First, she stressed the importance of finding a mentor—someone to look up to who can help guide you. Lynch was lucky enough to have several influential mentors. Her first mentor—a home economics teacher—inspired Lynch to pursue cooking. “She saw things in me, that I didn’t see myself,” Lynch said.

In high school, a job with Chef Mario Bonello at Boston’s esteemed St. Botolph Club piqued her interest in becoming a professional chef. “I spent as much time in the kitchen as I could with Mario Bonellow, watching everything he did.”

During her early twenties, Barbara worked under Todd English at Michaela’s and Olives, before traveling to Italy, where she learned about the country’s cuisine firsthand from local women. When Lynch returned to Boston, she became the executive chef at Galleria Italiana, bringing national acclaim to the tiny trattoria when she captured Food & Wine’s “Ten Best New Chefs in America” award.

In 1998, she opened a restaurant of her own, No. 9 Park, in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. Looking back, she considers a bold decision. “I was living with my mother at the time. I owed the IRS $75,000, and I didn’t even know how to write a proper business plan,” she recalled. But the restaurant was a huge success. It immediately received rave reviews from publications around the country and was named one of the “Top 25 New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit and “Best New Restaurant” by Food & Wine.

Throughout Lynch’s career as a chef, restaurant owner, and restaurateur, she has faced many challenges, including demanding chefs with impossibly high standards. But she’s learned an important lesson—“If you really want something, you can talk yourself out of being scared. It’s not you against the world. It’s you against yourself,” she said.

Lynch encouraged students to follow their passions. “If you listen to what’s driving you, you can overcome the obstacles and make things happen,” she said.