MIT Sloan | Mr. Healthtech Consultant
GMAT 750, GPA 3.44
NYU Stern | Mr. Army Prop Trader
GRE 313, GPA 2.31
Harvard | Mr. Software PE
GMAT 760, GPA 3.45
Kellogg | Mr. Social Impact Initiative
GMAT 710, GPA 3.1
Harvard | Mr. Policy Player
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
INSEAD | Ms. Spaniard Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 8.5/10.00
Rice Jones | Mr. Carbon-Free Future
GMAT 710, GPA 4.0
London Business School | Ms. Private Equity Angel
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. Navy Nuke
GMAT 710, GPA 3.66
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Salesman
GMAT 700, GPA 3.0
NYU Stern | Ms. Entertainment Strategist
GMAT Have not taken, GPA 2.92
Wharton | Mr. Future Non-Profit
GMAT 720, GPA 8/10
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
London Business School | Mr. FANG Strategy
GMAT 740, GPA 2.9
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Indian Dreamer
GRE 331, GPA 8.5/10
Wharton | Mr. Hopeful Fund Manager
GMAT 770, GPA 8.52/10
London Business School | Mr. LGBT Pivot
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7
Kellogg | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.15
Harvard | Mr. CPPIB Strategy
GRE 329 (Q169 V160), GPA 3.6
Rice Jones | Mr. Student Government
GMAT 34 (ACT for Early Admit Program), GPA 3.75
Chicago Booth | Mr. Healthcare PM
GMAT 730, GPA 2.8
Kellogg | Ms. Sustainable Development
GRE N/A, GPA 3.4
Stanford GSB | Mr. Army Engineer
GRE 326, GPA 3.89
Kellogg | Ms. Big4 M&A
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
MIT Sloan | Ms. Rocket Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.9
Harvard | Mr. African Energy
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4

What Harvard MBAs Really Want To Accomplish

The question, formidable and provocative, is also rather simple. “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It was first asked in 1992 by the American poet Mary Oliver in a masterful poem entitled “The Summer Day.” Ten years later, that question was systematically answered by graduating MBAs of the Harvard Business School.

The idea to pose the question to Harvard MBAs came to Tony Deifell, who had taught photography to blind and visually impaired students before arriving at Harvard as a student. For Deifell, it was a bit of a layup. He was a professional photographer and a budding social entrepreneur. So he used his photography skills to do stunning black-and-white portraits of classmates who had penned the best 200-word-or-less replies to Oliver’s question. In the first year, Deifell approved 100 of the answers and photographed 100 classmates, all of them displayed at an exhibition during commencement for the Class of 2002.

Some 372 Harvard MBAs have weighed in over the years. The photographs, in stark black-and-white contrasts, are stunning. More importantly, the essays often are nothing less than inspiring, even gripping. They tell poignant stories of ambitious hopes and expansive dreams, of dramatic hardships and hurdles already overcome in the journey of life. Perhaps most surprisingly, they sometimes reveal intimate, often vulnerable, details about their lives, from a gay MBA who writes about what it was like to come out of the closet to a man who confesses that he was so overweight as a child that he was never chosen for football practice.

In all, the portraits and the essays represent time capsules of the aspirations of several generations of MBAs. They are almost always surprising, in part because they make a myth of the common stereotype of MBAs as money-grubbing Masters of the Universe with little concern for society or community. In fact, right from the start of the project in 2002, many of the students wrote about their vision to work either immediately or some day for social enterprises.

“When people come to the exhibition during commencement,” says Betsy Brink, an HBS staffer who helps students manage the project, “nine out of ten people say, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’” She says that the Portrait Project, as it is called, has encouraged some applicants, inspired by the thoughtful and intelligent reflections, to apply to Harvard. It is a student-driven initiative. This past year, four student leaders screened essays from 120 of their classmates to choose the 34 responses that ended up online with photographs.

In the first year, when Deifell organized it on his own, he discovered an Asian classmate who saw himself as the “repository of my parents’ hopes and dreams.” His goal? To make his parents proud. Another graduate noted that he had come to Harvard Business School hoping to find answers and would leave with only questions. He shunned investment banking and consulting jobs, resolved to assign himself to “Saving the Planet and Promoting World Peace.” Yet another MBA left Harvard with the desire to change the world. “I want to teach these HBS cats that it’s not about what kind of car you drive, what kind of house you live in, which top-tier consulting firm or investment bank you join, or how many zeroes are on your signing bonus check; but instead whether you can look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, how many lives you touch, whether you can laugh at yourself and the world, and whether you made a difference.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.