Thoughts on a San Francisco Graduation

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

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The author enjoys the San Francisco Commencement ceremonies on May 5 with classmates.

How do you verbalize an experience sufficiently well to communicate what it really was? As we stand at the finish line of this marathon, medals in hand, families at our side, smiles spread across our sweat-stained faces and hugs and cheers from our friends, what is going through our minds? Are we thinking about the grueling hours we spent on the road, one tired foot in front of the next, the nagging self-doubts through the race and thoughts of quitting … or are we already missing the exhilarating experience and wishing we could live it all over again?

So today, Class 37 of the West Coast Wharton MBA for Executives program, let us hold our heads high. Have that swagger in our walk. Marathons like the program that we just got done with are not for the faint of heart. At the same time, seldom do we see people claiming that they did it all by themselves. Our crossing the finish line has as much to do with our families, friends and colleagues that stuck with us through all those crazy weeknight study team calls and absentee weekends. A big thank you to every one of them; we ran this race because we knew we could count on you to carry us over the finish line if it came to that.

How we ran is also a direct function of our coaches, our mentors who taught us how to finish strong. Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And our professors taught us to see the world through new eyes. Whether it was Kent Smetters, Wharton’s Boettner Professor, and MAGEC (and Microsoft); Andy Abel, the Ronald A. Rosenfeld Professor, and the macroeconomic world around us; Ziv Katalan, OPIM adjunct professor and director of Wharton Global Initiatives, and modeling (and cash in, cash out); Mike Useem, the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management, and becoming the leaders of tomorrow—our first year was grounded in seeing the world yet anew, through the eyes of these amazing professors.

However, second year started. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

For each ecstatic instant

We must an anguish pay

In keen and quivering ratio

To the ecstasy.

We had our choice of electives to pick from, to decide which direction our journey was going to take. Some of us looked inward and benefited immensely from Practice Professor of Management Stew Friedman and David Pottruck, C’70, WG’72, on how to change ourselves to become better leaders. Others looked at our spreadsheets and Chris Geczy and David Wessels and Mike Gibbons (adjunct associate professor of finance, adjunct assistance professor of finance and the I.W. Burnham II Professor of Investment Banking/deputy dean, respectively), learnt to run regressions and price any asset in our sleep. Some followed Jagmohan Raju, the Joseph J. Aresty Professor, and Barbara Kahn, the Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor, and they learnt how to build and sell better products and brands. Yet others charted their own course in their lives under the guidance of Ethan Mollick and Doug Collom and Raffi Amit (the Edward B. and Shirley R. Shils Assistant Professor of Management, adjunct professor of management/vice dean of San Francisco, and  Robert B. Goergen Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Management, respectively) and decided to build their own companies. Our lives have been transformed and enriched by these great mentors, and we thank them from the depths of our hearts.

Last but not the least, you can never win a race on an empty stomach without any nourishment. Our Wharton | San Francisco family—Bernie, Doug, Juana, Alla, Kathy, Irina, Allison, Rai, Sara, Dayne and all the others—made our lives so much easier by making sure that all the mechanics of the program were taken care of, so we could focus on learning and having fun. Thank you all for your dedication to making our lives at Wharton awesome!

It was Viktor Frankl who wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” And out of the fire of juggling our family, school and work lives, I have seen amazing lights of wisdom and leadership shine through. Brilliant people like Girish who aced the classes and still took time out to help others keep pace with the class. Great organizers like Jared and Ashmi and Aleyda who took time out to make this journey a wild, fun party. We learned inspiring stories of overcoming personal hardship from people like Lindsay and Ajaiey. Superwomen like Gitte and Madhurima who decided that life was not hard enough and chose to have babies while doing the program. There was something to admire and learn from the lives of every single person in our class.

A view of the Bay Bridge from the San Francisco campus in the Hills Brothers building. Photo credit: Rai Poquiz.

A view of the Bay Bridge from the San Francisco campus in the Hills Brothers building. Photo credit: Rai Poquiz.

As a class, we can also lay our claim to several firsts. We were the first cohort to rightfully call the new campus our home, having spent almost our entire two years there. The countless hours spent at school were made so much richer by looking out of the window, seeing the vastness of the Pacific as it changed from steely grey with bars of golden yellow sunlight in the morning as we sat down for breakfast. The mid-day glory of a serene blue ocean with trains, traffic, runners, vendors and bikes whizzing by gave us pause between sessions over lunch. The brightly lit Bay Bridge straddled a still, dark ocean on our walks back to the Meridien. We will miss that view more than we realize today.

We were also the first to host a student-run entrepreneurship conference. And the first to vote for a class on social impact, one of the three pillars at Wharton. We followed that up with yet another first: a student-run social impact conference in San Francisco. We hope to have future cohorts continue the tradition. We were also the first batch to see Wharton Entrepreneurship grow wings on the West Coast with our classmates like Daniel, Amilcar, Vijay, Manoj, Vinay and Tim leading the charge. And of course, we’re proud to have in our class our one and only Kaufman Fellow, Victor.

We are proud to have helped the Wharton brand get firmly established in the West Coast as an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Today, weary but wearing the smiles of victory on our faces, we should congratulate ourselves that we did not pick the path of least resistance. We lived by the motto: “Pain is temporary, glory eternal.” What we have accomplished along with our families in the past two years is something that we will look back upon for years to come with amazement and disbelief.

Knowledge is a strange beast. Once you know something, it is hard to unknow it. Armed with our newly acquired skills, as we go change the world, it would be good for us to remember, as Albert Schweitzer said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” I hope we are all able to find happiness in what we do, or find something to do that makes us happy. At the same time, let us also learn to distinguish between happiness and meaning. Happiness comes from having our needs, wants and desires met. Meaning, however, comes from giving, from making the world at large a better place for everyone. So here’s wishing us all wonderful, happy, meaningful lives ahead!

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