Post-Orientation: The Time is Now

After enduring weeks of anticipation, leaving old jobs and friends, completing multiple Accounting and Finance CD’s, and finally enjoying a week of parties (and, oh yeah, registration), the Class of 2004 has arrived.

Our Orientation Week concluded last Friday with speeches by Dean Kim Clark and Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

It was awe-inspiring and just a tad humbling to sit together for the first time as a formed class in Burden. After several days of three-minute conversations in Spangler or standing in line to get a super-glued plate on our laptops (and later socializing in restaurants, pool halls, and bowling alleys), there we were, 902 strong, representing 71 countries, countless industries, and numerous, widespread global achievements

We have in our group a licensed ophthalmologist, an Olympic athlete, veterans that responded to the war on terrorism, entrepreneurs that have started schools, companies, and organizations all over the world, a singer from Broadway, a member of the Chinese stock exchange, non-profit managers from Africa, and probably the largest single group of global corporate knowledge of people our age assembled in the world, among many others. And we are extremely excited to be here.

This final event during Orientation capped off a whirlwind trio of days masterfully coordinated by members of the Orientation committee from the Class of 2003. As they handed out t-shirts to us in Spangler, helped us coordinate babysitters for the multiple social events, and even took our chips as the dealers during Casino night, it felt comforting to know that they had been in our shoes only one year before – and survived.

They too, struggled with the distribution boxes in Spangler (despite the video), made greeting cards with paper and glitter, and, over the course of several weeks of drinking, probably also realized that they were no longer 21. We thank them for a wonderful orientation period that enabled us to get to know each other better and for a great first impression of the student body.

I was awestruck looking around Burden trying to fathom the collective knowledge and accomplishment in our class, achievements that can only be compared to those that have come before us.

Secretary Chao emphasized to us that she began her career here just like us, with many of the same fears, hopes, and dreams. She also emphasized our important roles and responsibilities in the future, especially in light of the recent failures in leadership we have witnessed in our corporate world.

One thought was crystal clear by the end of the hour: The Class of 2004 is unique in its timing, because we will be the first class to begin business school fully aware of the renewed emphasis on leadership; it is up to each of us to fully exploit this awareness in our thoughts, judgments, and decisions so that we can take the world by storm and show them just how good leaders from HBS can be.

The vision that stuck with most of us, though, was the one painted by Dean Clark: June 2004, walking across the stage to receive an MBA diploma from Harvard Business School. Dean Clark described our two year journey we are beginning as life transforming.

I have a challenge for us: How good can we become, individually, as a class, and as members of a much larger community, between now and then? What do we need to do to help each other grow? What is stopping us from being better than we can even imagine at this point?
Right now, we are a large untapped pool of potential, ready to be transformed, ready to learn from 2003 and the faculty, ready to give. It is time for us to let go of the brakes, to open up, to risk, to challenge, to fail, to learn.

It will be this drive, this pursuit, and this focus that will reap great rewards. Two years from now, I want us all to be able to look back on this road we have yet to travel and not even believe just how far we have come together.

So. We are here. We are ready. Let’s go, 2004. As the dean said, work hard. Invest in each other. And, of course, don’t forget to say “hi” to him on the sidewalk.