A Promise Made is a Promise Kept

EC students close the Reciprocity Ring after nearly two years.

Keir Sullivan, Contributor
River Ewing, Contributor

The Class of 2023 arrived on campus in August 2021 at a crossroads. After a long haul managing Covid-19 protocols, the school was working hard to help the incoming RCs enjoy the HBS experience in-person.

Orientation kicks off each year with START week, which introduces students to the full range of what the MBA program has to offer, including their section. Knowing how important the section experience is to student life, great care is placed in setting a positive tone on Day 1.

Reciprocity Ring, an early START activity, helps establish a standard of generosity within each section. In the activity, students ask their section mates for one favor, from learning a new hobby to making an important connection. Each request is met with an earnest commitment to help.

On the fateful day, Section I student Collin Anderson (MBA ’23) offered a unique call to action with his Reciprocity Ring request: “Please cut my cat’s nails.” Given the unusual nature of the request, the room fell into an unsteady silence. 

While most Section I students were physically present in Aldrich to hear Collin’s plea, one student had to receive the request virtually. Alex Swick (MBA ’23), despite his Zoom constraint, stepped up to the plate and agreed to help Collin and Isaac the Cat. 

“Joining from the screen on Day 1 was tough, I had to make a real effort to make a connection. Even on my first day, I knew the section experience would be worth it. This was a house we were building together brick by brick, ring by ring—and I felt called to lay the first brick.”

As the months went by, Section I connected over memorable experiences and celebrations, however, there was something looming in the background. Something on the verge of growing out of control. Isaac’s nails.

During this time, Collin Anderson’s faith in the section bond wavered. “I started to think maybe it won’t happen. Maybe I was just kidding myself this whole time about how our section cared for each other. I thought maybe I went too far in a Skydeck roast and bungled it up”.   

The final stretch of the EC year inspired students to reflect on their experiences, including any remaining items on their bucket lists. For Alex Swick, there was only one outstanding item: “I was reflecting on my EC year and there was this pit in my stomach. I just couldn’t figure out why, but I felt as though my HBS experience wasn’t complete. Then it hit me – the Reciprocity Ring.”

On an uncommonly cold day in April, the sky opened. Alex dusted off a pair of clippers, messaged Collin with his intentions, and with one cut after another, made a difference in the world for his new feline friend.

Issac the Cat could not be reached for comment, but sources close to him say that he appreciated the thoughtfulness in Alex’s approach and is loving his new, appropriately shortened nails. 

Alex’s gesture didn’t go unnoticed by section leadership. Section I president Brianna Kim (MS/MBA ’23) had this to say: “I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished, especially because we did it together. Every section needs an Alex Swick. Trimming Issac’s nails was a thankless job: it wasn’t teaching a section mate a fancy new sport, or making a glamorous industry connection, it was responding to the real, everyday needs of a friend and section mate, and I think that is beautiful in its own way. Section I is lucky to have an individual like Alex.”

When we reached out to Collin Anderson to talk about what the experience meant to him he had this to say: “That’s the beauty of reciprocity. It’s a give and take, but together you grow. Alex did it for me and I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same for him, or his cat.” 

While Alex took an unconventional approach to Reciprocity Rings by taking nearly two years to close it, many students felt that this time added to the impact on that fateful day when Isaac’s nails were finally cut. Even late into EC year, Cherri Wang’s (MBA ’23) faith in her section never wavered. “I never had any doubt. In our

section, a promise made is a promise kept. The moment those words were uttered in START, that cat’s nails were good as clipped [sic].”  

As the section reflected on the final Reciprocity Ring being closed, it revealed some powerful lessons about the section experience and what the section means to them. A highly influential section member, David Grinberg (MBA ’23), offered his thoughts “I could have volunteered, I could have offered to cut Isaac’s nails, but I didn’t, I thought, I barely knew these people. Boy, was I wrong. The section bond becomes stronger than anything. My biggest regret of HBS was not volunteering to cut that cat’s nails. If I could go back to that first day of START week, I would have volunteered.” 

As we all know, section bonds only grow with time. Today, it is helping a section mate cut a beloved pet’s nails, tomorrow it is helping them restructure distressed assets.

With this last request fulfilled, Section I became the first section in the school’s history to close every ring. “This is an enviable distinction for section I,” says section mate Aka Akapelwa. When asked whether this would have an impact on Section I’s legacy, Akapelwa answered in the affirmative, stating: “I like to think of Section I’s Reciprocity Rings as our Class of 1959 Chapel.”

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Keir Sullivan (MBA ’23) was raised in St John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador and studied Life Science and Commerce at Queen’s University. Prior to HBS, Keir worked at J&J.

River Ewing (MBA ’23) grew up on a farm outside of Toronto, Ontario and studied Philosophy and Business Administration at the University of Western Ontario. Prior to HBS, River worked at a family office.