They are the events that catch your eye. You read about them on the website. You hear about them from alumni. When you arrive on campus, you can’t wait for them to happen. They are the business school traditions – the rituals, customs, and lore that unify a community. Handed down from class to class, they represent an institution’s culture and honor its heritage. They provide a platform for classmates to see each other at their best – and remind students of the purpose and values that bind them.
At Columbia Business School, the most anticipated tradition is CBS Follies, an event so popular that it has become a YouTube sensation. Call it Manhattanville’s answer to Saturday Night Live. On stage, students perform music parodies – soon converted to music videos – that skewer everything from CBS’ humdrum dining to New York’s depressing dating scene. And no one is off limits – including faculty and administrators. In one video, Vice Dean Jonah Rockoff is depicted as a self-fancying King George III to the tune of Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back.” Another skit chronicles the two-year dissolution of a married couple, where it’s “OK to play, I’m MBA” – as in “Married But Available.” Indeed, the CBS Follies brings the classes together twice a year to laugh at their dirty laundry. It’s a tradition that MBAs look forward to, says Katherine Boorstein, a 2022 grad.
“Though many schools have some version of a comedy group that spoof the MBA experience,” she admits, “few have 80-member ensembles that perform professional-quality original productions for the entire student body in a Broadway theater. The existence of Follies really speaks to the willingness of CBS students to be creative, adopt a “beginner’s mind,” and build bonds that transcend professional affiliations. The amazing level of logistical and financial support Follies receives from CBS’s Office of Student Affairs also speaks to the school’s deep commitment to the community.”
POURING YOUR HEART OUT TO CLASSMATES
At Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, the annual Talent Show fills the role of CBS Follies. Allegra Porter, a spring grad, describes the event as a place where students can gain some unexpected insights. More than that, by dropping their guard and hamming it up, they often bond for life.
“I’ve been so impressed by what my peers can do,” Porter notes. “I’ve learned some very valuable skills, like how to make real chai, how to fold a shirt in under 2 seconds, when and when not to wear sandals… My classmates and I might not have remembered each other’s names at the start, but we certainly remembered the performances. Even to this day, I’ll introduce myself to someone and they’ll say “Oh—you’re that girl who did the tricks with her dog!”
Open, authentic, unafraid: That’s what MBAs often seek from their classmates. That’s why they historically gather together to share their stories. From the events that shaped them to the purposes that drive them, you’ll find Dartmouth Tuck MBAs stepping onstage to reveal their “personal stories of triumph and perseverance” each term, in the words of alum Andrew Hazel. Known as TuckTalks, this tradition has brought deeper understanding to students about their classmates – and themselves.
“Hearing these stories have been an inspiration to me and I feel show the individuality and strength within Tuck students,” Hazel explains After each story is shared, Tuckies write personalized messages of encouragement to the presenters highlighting how each story positively impacted them. I feel this is an accurate reflection of our business school as it underscores how we are a strong and encouraging community that supports one another.”
LOUNGING WITH CLASSMATES, FACULTY…AND PETS
At IESE Business School, the year’s largest annual event is reserved for a celebration. Rather than honoring the individual, Multi Culti honors the diversity of the school, which traditionally houses students from 60 or more countries each year. For IESE grad Cassian Stanjek, the February event represents the very best of his community: curious, fun-loving, and cosmopolitan in spirit.
“Students from every country have their own stand, showcasing traditional food and drink, and performing traditional dances. Afterward, students from all nations celebrate together,” he writes. “For me, the Multi Culti is the embodiment of the familiarity among all students at IESE, highlighting the cultural differences in an inclusive way by sharing our traditions and values and by creating a common understanding for each other. The Multi Culti demonstrates how we appreciate diversity and how we are all united as one family at IESE.”
Normally, “tradition” hints at an event that happens once a year. Considering the benefits of tradition – connection, identity, renewal, and memories – why not hold these events weekly? That’s the thinking at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business with Partio. That’s why full-time MBAs and their families – along with the other students and staffers who are part of the Jones community – get together to chat and dine as the weekend approaches. Each week features a different theme, which ranges from celebrating Diwali (Diwal-io) to bringing pets to the proceedings (Ulti-Mutt Pet Partio). Not surprisingly, says Quy Le, Partio ranks as the defining tradition of the Jones MBA experience.
“Partio happens roughly every Thursday afternoon, and it’s a time where students can grab a drink, get some food, and hang out with each other. It’s an event that really highlights Rice’s support for self-care and encourages students to build strong relationships with each other and faculty.”
What are some of the top traditions at Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, and MIT Sloan? When P&Q surveyed this year’s Best & Brightest MBA graduates, we asked them to share the defining tradition of their program and what it meant to the community. From leadership training on military bases to section competition, here are the traditions that alumni revere most at their business schools.
“Babson hosts Rocket Pitch every year, which gives student and alumni entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their entrepreneurial endeavors to students, faculty, entrepreneurs, investors, and startup supporters. Each presenter is given 3 minutes and in turn, the audience provides feedback immediately following the pitch. I adore this event because, oftentimes, the presenters are people you know so in some cases, you’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the evolution and growth of these businesses which gives me a sense of pride in my classmates.”
Pua Higginson, Babson College (Olin)
“As part of the MBA program orientation, all first-year students visit Camp Williams, a National Guard training site. Students are put into groups and have the opportunity to get through various obstacle courses. They need to bring their creativity and work together in order to be successful in each course. The trip to Camp Williams happens on the first week of the program. Everyone is still getting to know each other, so this activity provides great opportunities for students to bond. The class of 2022 was not able to participate in this due to Covid restrictions, but I was able to volunteer last fall to help facilitate the activities for the incoming class of 2023. I loved seeing how each team interacted and bonded over these shared experiences. This tradition really reflects the collaborative spirit that exists here at the BYU Marriott School of Business. While students are competing for internships and jobs, everyone is willing to help each other. There is an incredibly supportive community in the program that propels us all forward.”
Gabriel San Martin, Brigham Young University (Marriott)
“I love the Cambridge University tradition of Formal Dinners. Every college has ‘Formal Halls’, three-course evening meals at which you are normally expected to wear a gown – the full Harry Potter. I think they are great for connecting with a wide bunch of people, especially getting to know members of the cohort you may not already have met. The lively market in formal ticket swaps reflects their popularity.”
Bob Winslow, Cambridge Judge
“That would be the Shanghai Night! Every year, the MBA cohort gathers on a ship on the Huangpu River and all students dress up in 1920s Shanghai clothes. It is a very romantic event, where everyone eats and dances on the water, admiring the lights of the skyscrapers.”
Raffaele Ragini, CEIBS
“My favorite CBS tradition is Follies. CBS has one of the most robust Follies productions across all the MBA programs and I’ve participated in Follies every semester at CBS. Even during the pandemic, our ability to think outside the box and put on a high-quality production still leaves me in awe. Last semester, we had our first live show with the cast, dance, and band since 2019 and I still can’t believe how much we were able to accomplish with minimal previous examples. CBS Follies exemplifies the soul of CBS as students who are exceptionally talented without taking themselves too seriously and while keeping things light and fun.”
Alicia Davis, Columbia Business School
“The Tepper Reads program has been my favorite tradition, albeit a new one. Tepper Reads is a program-wide book club that aims to “enhance students’ empathy, critical thinking, and self-awareness.” I didn’t expect to have time to read fiction books while in business school nor did I expect them to have a profound impact on my experience. We’ve read Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, to name a few. The discussions brought me closer to my classmates as we tackled the deep themes of these novels. We even enjoyed the bonus of live (Zoom) discussions with the authors of the chosen books!”
Hensley Sejour, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
“My favorite event was the Annual Ski Trip, which took place in the beautiful resort town of Telluride in December this school year. It’s the largest student-organized trip in which more than 500 students attend and is hosted by the Booth Ski and Snowboard Club (BSSC). The five-day trip creates unforgettable memories and unique opportunities to meet with new classmates and bond with your friends, from themed parties to skiing and snowboarding on the slopes and exploring a new town together. As someone who had never skied prior to this trip, I was a bit nervous as some of my classmates were at a much more advanced level. Although I was new to the sport, my classmates cheered me on and were enthusiastic about my growth – they skied down easier runs with me, took videos of me and encouraged me to stretch myself and try harder slopes once I had mastered easier runs. The trip was a microcosm of Booth — working hard but playing harder, and a community that pushes each other to grow while genuinely supporting each other.”
Amira Khatib, University of Chicago (Booth)
“Every Thursday, Johnson hosts a Sage Social. It is a fully sponsored event where faculty staff and students get to meet, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and partake in beer and wine. Because of the close intimate nature of our institution, the opportunity for us all to meet on such a regular basis creates deeply entrenched relationships and a communal event for different recruiting paths to catch up. It is a special component of the Johnson magic.”
Jeremy Mathurin, Cornell University (Johnson)
“A beloved Tuck tradition is Tripod Hockey, a non-contact ice hockey league for those who need their stick to be the third leg. Like many, I came to Tuck with no ice hockey experience, but have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the tradition. The league is all about falling down, getting back up, and doing so with a supportive team by your side.”
Lia Parker-Belfer, Dartmouth College (Tuck)
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