I think it was in a moment of inappropriate madness that Warren Tranquada first proposed that we celebrate our commencement with a message to the world, a public declaration of our unique spirit that has made us what we are today.
The section greeted this news with a stunned silence, the beads of apprehension sweating from their foreheads.
“What can OJ do that will reflect our values, our ethics, our spirituality, and expose our inner sanctum? Can we actually do something of such magnitude and significance?” asked Adam Diamond in his characteristic fun way.
Obviously not, and soon everyone continued about his or her daily business. “Right,” said Andrea Scandron, “the onion salad is Astrid Malval’s responsibility, and Derek Abrams you will bring the plates, and…”
But then Cassandra Hanley had a flash of inspiration. “Instead of the usual boring ‘do great things’, what if we as a section do things of under-whelming non-achievement ?”
“You mean, like things without any greatness, without any importance, things that mean nothing?” asked a perplexed but excited Daniel Tennenbaum.
“You mean, like truly extraordinary people doing really ordinary things?” asked a perplexed but excited Matteo Coppola.
The section grew silent. Something was stirring in the cockles of our hearts but no one would dare admit it, until Dana Soiman did.
“You mean… you mean… be ourselves!” she sighed with relief. There was clapping, there was cheering, there was wild commotion, we had found our calling.
Suddenly Adolfo Criado’s cell phone rang. It was the wrong number.
It was a hot and sultry Boston summers day. All the sections had gathered in Spangler for a final section commencement snack. OJ was spread out over the leather couches. Life among OJ was slow and underwhelming.
Without lowering his paper, Michael Kahan said to no one in particular, “What’s all this underwhelming stuff mean? How do we know if we will succeed in doing it?”
Peter O’Reilly yawned. Said nothing. Sisto Merolla stared at the grass
outside, drooling a little from the corner of his mouth. Michelle Ma let out a sigh as she started reading another Shrimp Farming handbook. Scott Johnson continued to slowly carve a twig with his penknife, chewing his tobacco. Wei Lou tried to elicit a knee jerk reflex on himself, with no luck.
“Huh? What was the question again?” said Michael Starkey, lifting himself off the couch ever so slightly to pass a little wind. Kahan did not answer as he was asleep and had earlier been sleep talking.
Three flies buzzed lazily around the giant Madagascan newt that lay all curled up on the floor next to Ian Gow who slowly stroked its moist tail.
“Is that a real Madagascan newt?” asked a passing member of our cohort. Maria Lee looked at him and slowly turned to look at the newt and then slowly turned back to the person and very slowly but surely her eyes gradually shut and she was asleep.
Alejandro Henriquez Autrey drummed his fingers aimlessly on the couch humming a local birdsong.
Richard Moore debated whether to reach out and grab himself some of those sweet French strawberries macerated in pure orange juice and folded into chilled heavy cream on a bed of unsweetened chestnut-apricot pur‚e topped with finely chopped ginger, pine twigs, and fresh mint leaves. Nah.
Suddenly there was a loud bang right in the middle of Spangler. There was smoke, there was confusion, and there was chaos.
From nowhere a chair fell on Paul Sims. It is said that the development of the human race was partly due to the evolution of better brain perfusion systems that is a pre-requisite to intelligent thought. Chairs can interfere with this process.
The other sections were upset that their special day at HBS had been interrupted and they fled screaming and shouting in a blind panic.
Except for OJ. Two reasons we did not move:
“Firstly,” said Henry Patner, “it’s because after all these months we have realized that this is the wrong thing to do in such circumstances because our section rep usually focuses the story on the action and if you flee in a blind panic then you are no longer part of the main character stream and will probably not appear again in the main plot. See, look over there, that’s Dmitri Ponomarev and Doug Raymond running away – they are finito binito. I doubt they will feature in this story again.”
“Secondly,” said Pine Chen, “movement is too overwhelming a construct.”
But soon a serene calm descended upon the smoke filled room. A booming voice from nowhere beckoned us to come closer. Lana Newishy, as always, was the first to recognize the voice. “Guys, I recognize that voice; it seems our section’s special commencement guest is God himself!” she exclaimed. “How the hell…,” began Kevin Luke, but before he could even add an exclamation, the room darkened and a single bright spot light shone down on Louis Brenner.
“What is your one wish, child?” said that characteristically authoritative and monotone voice of God once again.
The burden of a thousand generations, past, present and future, the specter of everlasting wealth and riches, and the weight of an entire planet resting on his shoulders, his answer was clear and without hesitation. “Junior Management Associate at the Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company,” said Lou.
There was loud thunder, then absolute silence. OJ was gob-smacked.
“What … ?” said Marc Aquino aghast in total horror.
“Who … ?” said Andrew Boer suspended in disbelief.
“How … ?” said Dobbin Bookman shocked with incredulity.
Eric Sillman was more fluid in his direction. “In the heat of the moment you have lost direction and betrayed yourself, your section, and your species.”
“…and of course your entire Harvard MBA,” said Katherine Leness with the chip shot.
Leaving the killer to DY Lin: “Man, even the signing bonus is bigger at Pfizer,” she said. The section murmured in agreement, Schering Plough was indeed a bad choice for pharma.
Lou was disturbed. It was time to confront the special guest and demand a strategic re-think. Jason Martinez quickly assembled two rare Japanese hand fans from the Ming dynasty and began to clear away the smoke. And froze. And exclaimed. In surprise. “Oh my God.”
As the smoke cleared we saw a man with a white sheet over his head standing in the middle of the room with a megaphone in his hand and a smoke generator in the other. Sensing the game was up, he ran straight into the first available black sedan waiting in the circle outside Spangler.
As if by instinct, Andrew Eisner put out his hands. A chain formed spontaneously and OJ gathered around. We held hands and pondered this unique and solemn moment.
“Why had God felt the need to disguise himself in a white sheet and lots of smoke for us?” asked Isha Archer.
Joyce Fung tried to answer but found herself speechless, along with the rest of the section.
John Hoffman had more questions. “Have we become so introverted and self-centered over the past eighteen months that even God needs a megaphone to get us to listen?” he asked.
There was a very somber silence.
Broken suddenly by Chris Schell: “Wait a minute guys, can you not see it? Look at how smoke and heat from the whole incident has caramelized the ginger which has fused with the pine twigs and fresh mint leaves to form a fine crisp glaze encapsulating the strawberry snack. It’s a message to us all.”
OJ took the message to heart and over the next several years went on to do great things. We overachieved and we overwhelmed. We never looked back at our trail, just blazed forward through whatever challenge we encountered. We succeeded and climbed our respective mountains in our chosen worlds and conquered our personal summits.
Brooks Blake, having reached the pinnacle of his world, was standing
at his summit looking at life around. Yes, it sure felt good. But up here in the top, amidst the clouds of success and the quiet whispers of wealth, and the love of his wife, it was still a little lonely.
But Brooks knew at that very moment, somewhere in the world, there was Antonio Wallace with his baseball cap standing proud at the top of his mountain, and there was Adam Stern smiling and resting at his summit, and there was Ahalya Nava-Majmudar playing with lambs on top of hers.
Indeed, he knew that dotted across the entire world at that very moment were all his OJ sectionmates standing, like him, at the top of their individual summits. He knew in his heart that there was Kamran Moghtaderi on the top of his hill thinking the same thing and minding his sherpas; there was Julie Gagnon wondering the same thought and getting requests for informational interviews; and there was Kee Ng sharing their anguishes, pains and pleasures. And he did not feel lonely anymore.
And at that moment a celestial sparkle caught our eye. And from our mighty perches, OJ looked up into the sky and we gazed at the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars. (Brendan Scollans reckons he saw shooting across the sky – a black sedan with a man in a white sheet. Whatever.) We left our galaxy and looked beyond the thousands of other galaxies that litter our universe. Through the blackness of deep space and the stillness of time we went.
And the entire section smiled quietly to themselves as we passed on the left, a planet filled with anguish and despair similar to ours. “Look…” said Ashley Cockrill, pointing to the object, “its our parallel alternate universe.” And sure enough there was Toto Narayan, Tim Robertson and Miguel Lopez walking hand-in-hand on the warm sand, backwards through time, upside down, with a bottle of Kaiser-Stuhl XO Cognac.
But along we continued past the outer recesses of the mapped universe leaving behind us vast unknown galactic structures of unimaginable dimension and beauty, eventually coming to rest in front of the most magnificent site of the entire cosmos. For there it was – a dense nebula of interstellar dust and gas swirling around like a possessed dervish holy-man as it condensed into an orgy of pure energy and matter, giving birth to a single, brilliant, and wonderful new star. And there, at the very nexus of creation, was captured our eternal love forever.
And tear drops fell slowly from our eyes. And wherever they landed on Mother Earth, they turned into beautiful fireflies that disappeared into the night sky.
And if you should find yourself a lonely traveler treading wearily along the path of life, then look beyond your trail and seek out the magic fireflies, and see how their wings sparkle as they catch the light from that star far up above – the star of OJ.
OJ Goes Skiing: DVD Bonus! Alternative Ending
And tear drops fell slowly from our eyes. And wherever they landed on Mother Earth, they turned into beautiful pearls that disappeared into the night sky.
And if you should find yourself a lonely traveler treading wearily along the path of life, then look beyond your trail and seek out the magic pearls and see how they sparkle as they catch the light from that star far up above – the star of OJ.
OJ Goes Skiing: Credits
Many people have contributed to the this column. They may not appear in the forefront of the action but their contribution was nonetheless of great value in creating the atmosphere, developing the themes, and contributing to the overall story. I acknowledge their contributions and list some of them below.
Newt handler: Cinthia Koch
Fly 1 : Jeffrey Albee
Fly 2 : Jesse Selnick
Fly 3 : Laurent Ameil
Man in white sheet: Himself
Summit Extra 1: Jonathan Mendelson
Summit Extra 2 : James Dail
Sherpa: Kathleen Malone
Sedan driver: Peter Platzer
Lonely Traveler: Raj Kapoor & Mina Jiang (job share)