Harvard Portrait Project, MBA Class Of 2022

Selected portraits from the MBA Class of 2022 featured in the Harvard Portrait Project. Photo credit: Tony Deifell

As a child, Tony Deifell used to abscond with his mother’s camera to take pictures of everyday objects he found visually interesting. He noticed early on that people connected differently to images. Not that photographs were more or less impactful, necessarily, but they had the power to move people in ways words alone could not.

One example of this impact has become a guiding metaphor in Deifell’s life. He talked about it in his TEDx San Francisco talk, and he wrote about it in his own essay for the Harvard Portrait Project, which he created in 2002.

In the early 1990s, Deifell taught photography to blind and visually impaired students at North Carolina’s Governor Morehead School for the Blind. Learning the mechanics of photography–where to point the camera to capture a person’s face, for instance–helped the students navigate a world built for the seeing. Seeing the students’ photographs helped Deifell and others better understand how the students perceived that world.

Tony Deifell’s portrait from the first collection of the Harvard Portrait Project in 2002. Courtesy photo

He was going through a student’s photographs with one student, describing the images she had captured. He came across one photo of a cracked sidewalk, and he thought she had just been pointing her camera too low. He tried to move past it.

Wait, wait, wait, the student said. Bring it back. Are there cracks in the sidewalk?

Yeah, Deifell answered.

I wanted to take a picture of the cracks. My cane gets stuck in them and I want to write a letter to the superintendent.

The student did write the letter, and she used her photograph as proof of the damage. Deifell realized he walked over the cracks every day, but he never would have noticed them without seeing that blind student’s photograph.

“I want to notice all the cracks in my world – the prejudice I still have about cultures I don’t understand, the arrogance that I know anything with certainty, and the privilege I have by virtue of my skin color, gender, and Harvard education,” Deifell wrote in his own 2002 Portrait Project essay on what he would do with his one wild and precious life.

“My calling in life is to use my skills as a media artist, entrepreneur, and leader to help everyone notice the cracks, because there are many.”


Deifell created the Harvard Portrait Project 20 years ago as an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. You can read more about the project’s history, impact and legacy in our Q&A interview to commemorate the milestone.

Now living in San Francisco, Deifell returns to HBS each spring to take his signature black-and-white portraits and help MBAs refine their essays for the project. He asks every student to respond to the same prompt, taken from “The Summer Day” by Pulitzer-prizing winning poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

We asked him to pick some of his favorite portraits and essays from the MBA Class of 2022. They are presented below. All photos are courtesy of Tony Deifell and The Harvard Portrait Project.



Everyone wants to be seen and accepted. I had gone through life feeling either overlooked and invisible or misunderstood and rejected.

Setbacks in childhood left me feeling inadequate in adulthood. I battled crippling social anxiety and faced the realities of prejudice as the only Black girl on a predominantly white swim team for a decade. I felt like an outsider.

Navigating adulthood as an outsider was lonely but a few genuine people changed things for me. I don’t know the recipe of a good friend, but I can describe the feeling of meeting someone who listens and understands without judging. I know what it’s like to have roommates who give me space to be myself in the safety of our home. I felt a comforting stillness when friends mobilized to support me when I lost my grandfather. And I’m humbled to have friends choose to stay when I’m at my worst.

Everyone deserves to know what acceptance feels like. I want to help people around me recognize their significance. I want to be intentional with the opportunities I have to show someone they are seen and heard. Because it only takes feeling seen by one person to change someone’s life.



What’s in a name?

I grew up in Skopje, the capital of present-day North Macedonia, a small country in the Balkans. I say “present-day”, because during my childhood, we called ourselves Macedonian, half of the world referred to us as former-Yugoslav, and many, in the neighboring countries, publicly debated our ethnicity and right to self-determine.

My national identity has been questioned and negated. Scornful customs officers scoffed at the name on my passport. Kids I met in the region kept telling me my country shouldn’t exist. And along that road I emerged—more eager than ever to define and express my own personal, multifaceted identity. And my identity—a dedication to mentorship that evolved from my traditional Balkan upbringing, and a passion for innovation spawned from my childhood curiosity—has guided my actions since. It is portable; it boarded planes with me to Harvard for college, New York and Toronto for work, and then onward to HBS and beyond.

A lot is in a name; for starters, the right to be and exist as you see yourself. I dedicate my life and career to helping others find their authentic voice and shape an identity that anchors them.

NEXT PAGE: Jeff Barkas and Justine Lee

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