Back to Where He Once Belonged

By Obinna Obilo, W ’04, WG ’08

In retrospect, I always knew that I’d be back.

On my graduation day in 2004, I found myself in a good place. I had a full-time job locked up. I had made more lifelong friends than I ever thought possible. The accomplishments, the parties, the laughs, the lessons learned flooded my mind like a muddled mass of bittersweet memories. I had done everything i had set out to do and more. now I was finished. I was leaving.

However, as I donned my regalia and marched with thousands of other faces down Locust Walk, the one thought that dominated my thoughts was the hope that my name would be pronounced correctly at the graduation ceremony. Obinna Chimaobim Obilo doesn’t exactly roll off most tongues so easily.

When my official diploma arrived in the mail that summer, I was left feeling both satisfied and annoyed. On one hand, the Latin inscriptions on the parchment symbolized the fact that I had arrived, that I was a graduate. On the other hand, my father made what I felt at the time was an irritating gaffe when he ordered my diploma frame. He had purchased an ornate frame from the school that included two windows — one for the diploma and one for a fancy sketch of the campus—but failed to order the sketch, leaving the overall image incomplete.

Since that time, I have developed  the theory that perhaps my dad did not  make a mistake after all. it might just be possible that he was actually making  the subtle point that he wanted me to further my education at some point to complete the picture myself (I’ve yet to ask him, but if this turns out to be the case then touché, old man, touché).

In August 2004, I relocated to Washington, D.C. to work for Fannie Mae. During my analyst rotational experience I had the opportunity to work on several exciting and innovative projects, especially in relation to the company’s domestic homeownership initiatives.

I knew that for as much as I enjoyed being at Fannie mae, my career aspirations lay beyond the scope of the mortgage industry or even domestic financial services. my long-term career goal is to merge my personal and professional endeavors through international development initiatives. Specifically, I want to focus on  financial services and strategic management for entrepreneurs and businesses in emerging markets and particularly West Africa. Somewhere in the career mental planning process, the MBA bug bit me. Amazing right?

Not even a full two years out of school and i was already back on nerd auto-pilot, clamoring for more. As I began to review and then apply to graduate programs, Wharton grad remained at the top of my list. Even though I had been through the undergraduate curriculum, I was more than impressed with the nuances of the Wharton graduate program—even in comparison to the other top programs. I became increasingly enamored with Wharton’s clear global reach, the extent of which I found truly unique. my only worry was if the school would choose to have me back, and then it happened. March 16, 2006, the release date for admits, a.k.a. “Wharton armageddon.” I remember pensively poring through the work deliverables while constantly flipping to my Yahoo personal account for any and all updates. after waiting “patiently” for 15 minutes (or roughly 2,250 hyperrhythmicheartbeats) past the scheduled admissions status release, I went to the application website to see if my fate had been revealed. upon logging into the system, I was greeted with the note:

“Congratulations, you have been accepted into the Wharton Class of 2008.” no buffer from the truth, no additional buttons to click. in very anticlimactic fashion, I was a Wharton admit again.

I was back inside The Matrix. I celebrated by bouncing up and down in my cubicle, banging my fist against my heart, and lifting my pointer fingers skyward like I had ust been handed the Larry O’Brien Trophy from NBA Commissioner David Stern. Then, after  two minutes, I realized how much work I still had to complete—and how much my chest hurt from the exuberant celebration—and decided to call my family to tell them the good news and then dive right back into my deliverables.

Thankfully, I have had plenty of occasions to celebrate my admission and subsequent matriculation to Wharton. I have received countless pieces of mail and even more e-mails. I am still trying to sort through the enormous quantity and quality of information and resources available to the Wharton graduate population. I also received my first bill of many from the university, prompting my parents—who thankfully financed my undergraduate education—to laugh uncontrollably when I complained about how much I would end up owing.

Back to School

Last but not least, I finally packed my belongings and left the green pastures of D.C. for the not-so-green pastures of my new apartment in West Philadelphia. One U-Haul truck and a near-herniated disc later, I have settled into the two-bedroom brownstone i share with a friend and fellow Penn alum. Moving is never fun and leaving D.C. was surprisingly harder than I initially could’ve imagined two years ago, but those feelings have been supplanted by the palpable feeling of comfort I get from returning to my second home.

The grads have since completed Pre-Term, a smorgasbord of activity in which I crammed to learn or relearn basic business theory and fundamentals, hundreds of names, and the addresses of various bars over the course of four weeks that felt like four months. Both my brain and my liver can attest to the effects of this whirlwind, for better or worse. I had to frequently stop and check my pulse, the calendar, and (most importantly) my bank account, and I was honestly shocked each time I did.

One of the big highlights during Pre-Term was the Leadership Retreat, held at “rustic” Camp Iroquois Springs in Catskills, NY — so rustic, in fact, that the toilet paper was literally half-ply. about the only thing I knew about the Catskills prior to the retreat was that it was once home to “Iron” Mike Tyson, which I’m sure hasn’t exactly been the strongest selling point since the early 1990s. However, the locale was ideally suited for team building exercises we went through over the two-day excursion.

The main takeaway from this retreat was how inspiring it was to be surrounded by and bonding with classmates and peers who will be leaders of commerce and champions of the economy in the not-so-distant future. About the only thing that dampened our spirits (and our clothes) was the constant downpour that kept us mostly indoors for the first day of the retreat. The silver lining was that the time indoors gave my cohort, and especially my learning team, the chance to truly bond and thoughtfully reflect on how we would work together over the next year in order to achieve success.

The retreat allowed me to develop an even greater appreciation for the unique and diverse thoughts, experiences, and backgrounds of each of my cohort-mates. additionally, I was awestruck and humbled by some of the obstacles that other individuals had overcome in order to eventually find themselves in our class. Some of my classmates already stand as role models I hope in some facet to emulate going forward.

This is what the last year 13 months—from taking the GMAT to writing essays to interviewing—has finally translated into. Prep time is over and the regular season is finally here for Wharton grads and everyone else. and now here I am. a few years older than when I left. Supposedly a “seasoned” veteran, but without question more cognizant of and/or jaded by the real world than before. Once again identifiable by my student ID number and Wharton e-mail address. Still the same handsome, funny, and intelligent guy. Back, yet again, for the first time.

Just like that, fall semester is about to start. The campus is once again bustling. Doe-eyed freshmen are once again lost or wandering in packs of 50. The food trucks that take the summer off are returning to reclaim their spots on Spruce or 38th Street. as I make my final runs to the bookstore for supplies and textbooks; as I meander through Jon M. Huntsman Hall or up and down Locust Walk; as I bid and auction for courses and prepare for the next two years, I still find myself amazed and surprised that I’m a Wharton student again. But in a way I’m not surprised at all and — knowing my heart and looking at that diploma frame—perhaps I never should have been. As I said before, I always knew I’d be back.

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