This is not an easy place to study business. In addition to regular academic pressure, we are constantly subjected to internship recruiting and other activities. And amidst an interminable series of 19-hour days, I realized a few weeks ago that I had lost sight of where I am and why I am here. It happened at a presentation during the company information days.
It was a talk by Anna Ouroumian, the CEO of The Academy of Business Leadership. Anna was born in Lebanon and grew up in an orphanage. During the war, she immigrated to the United States with three possessions: some money, a book about Ronald Reagan, and a book about Harvard Business School that she had highlighted, earmarked, and read cover-to-cover. No fourteen-year-old orphan could have understood the content of that book, but clearly it made an impression on Anna.
A few weeks ago, she spoke at Harvard Business School about her incredible journey and her new life. It was hard for the audience to stay composed as she broke down recounting her love of HBS and her dream to be a student here – all learned from a book she picked up at a run-down store in Beirut. I suspect there were very few dry eyes as she told of finally graduating from UCLA at the very top of her class, despite the odds being stacked against her. But the moment that spoke to me most was seeing her excitement when she arrived to give the talk and pulled out her camera to take a picture of herself standing in front of the classroom. This CEO of a multi-million dollar organization had finally reached her Mecca.
Today, I think back to the night that I submitted my application for HBS. With a prayer under my breath and fingers crossed, I had clicked the Submit button hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I think of the incredible impressions I had of this school and its legacy, and the terrifying expectations of loved-ones that I was carrying to Boston. And today, I am saddened that the sense of wonder about HBS has been replaced with a sort of cynicism and pessimism. We came to HBS to renew our careers, to meet amazing people, and to learn. But in the midst of all the activities and ruminating over classes, the weather, or the long sushi line, we forgot where we are and why we came here.
It was Anna that reminded me. This winter break, as we celebrate the holidays with our loved ones outside “the bubble,” let’s remember the image that others have of our university and do our best to uphold it. And, next year, let’s return with a renewed sense of wonder and optimism about this iconic institution that we have all been made a part of.