I became part of Section S [a section dedicated to those “off cycle” at HBS] when I took last fall semester off to have my son, Luke. I spent last spring with my fellow 2008 classmates but returned this fall for my last semester as a member of Section S. It’s hard at first being back and feeling like an outsider. You feel like you should know people and you even convince yourself that you recognize others but in the end it’s really a sea of unfamiliar faces.
In my experience there have been two especially lonely moments since I’ve been back. The first was the scramble for classroom seating that happens during the first days of class. I hadn’t realized how nice it was to have friends save me a seat until I realized that I didn’t have one. It’s humbling and humorous as a grown adult to feel like the new kid back in junior high – worried about where to sit and who to sit next to. As a result, I mostly sit in the worm deck this semester and am especially thankful to those students who offered me the seat next to them.
The second lonely situation was after a difficult cold call on the second day of class. It was a struggle and I felt rusty from my time away from school. After class, I kept hoping an old section mate would come up and pat me on the back or say something to make me laugh. Instead, I packed my belongings all alone and went outside to call my husband.
Even though there have been lonely moments since I’ve been back, I’m happy to report that there have been far more supportive and helpful moments. There are two specific moments I’d like to share.
The first was when I was struggling through a case and I wanted someone to talk to and trade ideas with. I e-mailed a member of that class, Abhijit Pradhu. I had two different classes with Abhijit and based on the three comments I had heard him make I thought he seemed helpful, articulate and kind. I hadn’t spoken to him once outside of class and he definitely didn’t know me. I e-mailed him, explained my situation and asked if I could spend ten minutes with him discussing the case. Being of the HBS mold I found it hard to ask for help and I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt. I prepared myself to be blown off or disregarded as an annoying mom. I was thrilled when Abhijit immediately e-mailed me back and even offered to meet me in person. What was ten minutes out of his busy day represented an act of generosity and kindness that I’ll always remember.
The second moment happened yesterday when I brought my older brother to an HBS class for the first time. I briefed him on the traditions around guests but let him know that the clapping may not happen since my original sectionmates are gone. But, in true HBS form the class of 2009 acted as if I was one of their own. It sounds so silly but I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was a to have a room full of practical strangers stand up and clap for my brother and then clap for me after I stammered my way through a comment. Again, it was such a small act that meant so much.
These are just two examples but there have been many more. I thank everyone in the class of 2009 for going out of their way to make those of us in Section S feel included and valued. What may seem like simple, meaningless moments to you are the kind of acts that have made a world of difference to people like me. Just last night my little family sat down at dinner and said what we were thankful for.
I told my son how thankful I was for the kind people I go to school with.