BIGGEST STRUGGLES: SAYING NO AND ADAPTING TO BEING A STUDENT AGAIN
That’s not to say that there weren’t any bumps along the way. Like MBAs before them, they grappled with the leap of faith – going from thriving professionals to unpaid students. Forget the idea of B-school as an academic cake walk, says Sarah Esty, who interned at McKinsey and earned a dual law degree during her time at Yale. “There are constant problem sets due, short papers, presentations, and lots of team meeting times to do group work.” Sometimes, the late nights and time crunches caught up to even the best students. “There were times when I questioned if I had made the right decision,” concedes Duke’s Davlin. “I loved the life I had before business school, so the uncertainty was unsettling. However, I held on to my faith. After some initial character building, it wasn’t long before I started realizing the personal and professional benefits of my decision to return to school.”
Others were tempted by the dizzying array of activities and opportunities prevalent in business school. Many made the classic first year mistake: Making commitments to things where they lacked the time or passion to excel. For the first times in their lives, many had to learn how to say “no,” and accept that they will occasionally miss out. “It is hard for hundreds of overachievers to collectively and individually recognize that they can’t do it all,” explains Northwestern’s Blair Pircon, an award-winning entrepreneur. “The sooner you can define what you don’t want to do during business school, the better.”
As always, students face the tension between staying true to their original vision and embracing new passions or taking paths with less uncertainty and higher returns. In such cases, says the University of Maryland’s Tiffany Chang, growth would always be the tiebreaker. “The hardest part of business school was constantly reminding myself to embrace the things that made me uncomfortable. The issue was not adapting to the challenge. It was how to conscientiously create a challenge every day for myself.”
KEEP CALM AND ACCEPT AMBIGUITY
In the end, the 2016 best and brightest came away with profound lessons that will echo long after they’ve forgotten Michael Porter’s Five Forces. Some lessons came from painful experience. The University of Texas’ Jennifer Thomas, for example, learned what her weaknesses were – and to surround herself with people “who excel in those areas.” In the same vein, the University of Michigan’s Kristin Horvath discovered that feedback was a gift, not a threat, and to seek it out whenever possible.
Others grudgingly accepted that some ambiguity is part of any decision. “You don’t even know what you don’t know, says Georgia Tech’s Cory O’Brien. “And there’s a lot to know.” To compensate, Texas A&M’s Tyler Lorenz learned to let go of his “control freak” tendencies and trust his teammates. Yale’s Fona Osunloye recognized that the greatest mistake is to go it alone without asking for help. “You’re not going to know all the information to make the best decision at any given time,” explains Penn State’s Ian Nicholas Wetzel. “You have to work with what you’re given and go with it.”
Most important, they came away with an understanding of what it takes to be a good team member. To INSEAD’s Pedro Filipe Tavares Ramos, that means leading by example. “Only when you “walk the talk” will you get the full effort and commitment of your team.” MIT’s Kirk leveraged the unique backgrounds and talents of his peers to maximize results. “Diversity matters,” he explains. “I’ve learned even more from my classmates than I have from my professors. When everybody at the table comes from different professional backgrounds, cultural heritages, and geographies – and wants to actively listen and learn from one another – great things can happen.” For Georgetown’s Coral Taylor, being a good team member also involves stepping back and sometimes swallowing one’s pride. “One of the greatest lessons I learned is how to cooperate and collaborate with a team, even if I may not agree with the direction the team is going. Sometimes there is greater value in having a cohesive vision than pushing for the team to take one individual’s vision.”
POST-GRADUATION PLANS RANGE FROM FIGHTING DISEASE TO BUILDING A SPACE ELEVATOR
For the best and brightest, graduation means going on to bigger and better things. Yale’s Esty will be joining Hillary Clinton campaign’s Policy Team. John Petersen, a former company commander in the U.S. Army, found his calling during the Global Applied Project at Ohio State. He will be returning to Kenya to work for Partners For Care to stave off preventable diseases. Babson’s Bryanne Leeming plans to continue building her startup JumpStart, which trains 8-to-12 year olds on how to write code. The University of Missouri’s Sagar Gupta, who helped develop a sensor technology to detect cancer cells in blood, plans to continue seeking out new medical technologies to improve lives.
They have dreams, big and small. New York University’s Ronica Reddick, an actress who has appeared in such FX staples as Louie and The Americans, will use her education to “bring more interesting and diverse stories to film and television.” Paul Jacobs, a Duke MBA who was previously NATO’s chief engineer at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, imagines becoming a leader in commercializing outer space by building the first space elevator. The University of Chicago’s Dan Guarino will be guided by a simple philosophy: “Successfully build companies. Help other entrepreneurs. Make the world better.” And USC’s Claudia Caron is looking forward to becoming the “coolest aunt” thanks to the discounts on Barbies and Hot Wheels she’ll receive at her new job at Mattel.
So congratulations Class of 2016! Welcome to the club. If you’re a graduate, you probably share the same sentiments as MIT’s Brian Kirk: “I feel very privileged to be a part of such a stellar group of individuals and an even more impressive collective; I smile every morning when I put my Grad Rat class ring on!” And if you’re a member of the 2018 class who is taking this graduating class’ place, don’t feel too intimidated. Confides Carnegie Mellon’s Samantha Grant, “There’s a whole team of professors, faculty, and students who want to see you succeed.” Instead, follow the advice of Wharton’s Steve Weiner: Business school isn’t an automatic rocket ship that takes graduates to the moon. It’s more like the fuel inside the rocket. It still requires a spark to ignite… and that comes from you.”
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