The HBS experience has often whimsically been referred to as “life in a bubble,” where we are protected from the outside world for two blissful years of frolic, cross-dressing and networking. An honest view, however, reveals that to be a tragic myth. Soon after we enrolled we were busy practicing the finer points of the vaunted case method during the breezy, intellectually-lite program known as Foundations. On one of those fanciful Fall mornings, a dozen or so terrorists decided to murder several thousand people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We lost friends and family, and perhaps our innocence. Our bubble, so to speak, burst.
I borrow that line, of course, from the tech crash that dramatically changed our employment landscape, not to mention the economy as a whole. Gone are the days of dot.com dreams and quick millions. And even the investment banks and consulting firms that those who came before us perhaps naively eschewed for Silicon Valley are shrinking their classes if not closing their doors. Then came Enron, and those who came before us (long before us) again weakened our job prospects through their deceitful and HBS brand-damaging shenanigans.
As if 9/11 and failures of corporate governance had not done enough to hurt the marketplace for our varied talents, another HBS alum waged a war to free a people, and sent the markets back on their uneasy course.
The markets be damned, however. For if we have learned anything at HBS, it is that people matter and that the human spirit perseveres. And lest we be incredibly narcissistic, we must recognize that the events of the last two years affected the world, not simply the HBS Class of 2003.
So as we prepare to leave, we should not regret our number of job offers or our looming student loans. Instead we should celebrate our good fortune in having this singular opportunity to be educated and armed with the tools we will need to survive in a world gone mad.
We will not only have the opportunity, but the undeniable obligation, to share our blessings with the world. Yes, the world. It may sound trite to speak in such lofty tones, but, and this is not arrogance speaking, graduates of this particular MBA program have been known to find themselves on quite lofty perches. CEO. Head of the World Bank.
President of the United States. Parent. Teacher. In each of these roles, the first included, our ability to dramatically and profoundly improve or destroy the lives of others will depend, to quote Dr. King, on the quality of our character. So please, let the lessons, trials and tribulations of the last two years not discourage you, but instead inspire you. There are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who live on less the $2 a day.
There are homeless people less than a mile from HBS. There are children on your street who need a mentor. Reach out. Touch. Give.
Let the world know that you appreciate this wonderful opportunity and experience that we have shared.
Julian C. Swearengin
MBA Class of 2003