‘What Is It You Plan To Do With Your One Wild & Precious Life?’

Each year, a group of Harvard Business School students ask their classmates a straightforward, simple question taken from the last lines of a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Mary Oliver, as part of Harvard’s Portrait Project.  

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

A dozen years ago, an inspired MBA student at Harvard by the name of Tony Deifell borrowed that line from the poem and asked it of his classmates, beginning the annual tradition of Harvard’s Portrait Project. Since 2002, entrepreneur Deifell has returned to campus from his home in California with his camera every year to photograph the winning essayists in stunning black-and-white portraits—all 495 of them over 12 years.

Here’s a sampling of the more intimate and candid responses from the Class of 2014.

Black and white headshot of Eleanor Joseph, HBS Class of 2014

Eleanor Joseph, HBS Class of 2014 (Photo courtesy of Tony Deifell)


My body knew, though my mind did not.

Despite the drive, unexplained fatigue triumphed and I couldn’t rouse myself for our section’s event. I slept fitfully in a New Hampshire hotel room while CNN murmured news of terrorism in Kenya.

The next morning, a friend calls. Where am I?, she asks. Am I driving? Her voice cracks.

My beautiful, red wine-drinking, brilliant, passionate, life-loving friend, Elif, her partner Ross, and their unborn daughter, were victims in the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. All three are gone. — Eleanor Joseph


Black and white headshot of Michael Nkansah, Harvard Business School Class of 2014

Michael Nkansah, Harvard Business School Class of 2014 (Photo courtesy of Tony Deifell)


October 28, 1990 was the wrong day to be in Monrovia, Liberia.

My family would have perished—as nameless casualties of a senseless war in a foreign land—were it not for the intervention of a motley peacekeeping force led by Ghana and Nigeria. To this day, that early brush with mortality reminds me that I may yet owe death a life. — Michael Nkansah

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