As I work on the committee that is planning this year’s Winter and Spring Welcome Weekends for the future members of the class of 2014, I realize that a year ago I was making arrangements to attend the Winter Welcome Weekend. It was January 2010, my former Marine Special Operations Team had just returned to Afghanistan without me and I was headed to … Philadelphia.
When I walked into Huntsman Hall’s Dhirubhai Ambani Auditorium, I immediately found myself feeling wildly out of place. I was experiencing the most apprehensive moment of my decision to pursue an MBA.
As I looked around the auditorium, not only did everyone already seem to know each other, but they all seemed as if they were best friends. People I met said they were in banking, consulting and private equity; I didn’t even really know what private equity was.
What was I doing here? Did I belong? Why wasn’t I headed back to Afghanistan?
As conversations progressed during the event, I eventually had to reveal that I recently left the Marines. Reactions from my future classmates were mixed. Some had no idea what to say, while others clearly had a genuine interest. But this did little to improve my sense
While I had been out of the Marine Corps for only about six months when I arrived for Welcome Weekend, in my own mind I had already successfully made the transition to “civilian life.” Little did I know my journey had barely started. My arrival at Huntsman stirred up a mixture of confusion, excitement, apprehension and guilt. I have numerous friends who made the transition from the military to business school, and each service member’s transition is uniquely their own. Yet my feeling of isolation is certainly not uncommon.
I awkwardly continued through the morning, joining my weekend cohort for our next session. As our Welcome Committee members went through their introductions and “fun facts,” my morning markedly improved. In his introduction, one of the committee members stated that he had been in the Navy and said, “If there are any veterans in the room, come find me after this session.”
I was not alone.
On the surface, the company and camaraderie that I left behind in the Marines could not be more different from that which I was now joining at Wharton. The first was a band of warriors who fancied themselves modern-day Spartans, masters of their craft and embodying the credo of “no better friend, no worse enemy.” The second was a well-dressed and ambitious group of future business titans who can do DCFs and complex financial models in their sleep.
The commonalities of the groups were harder to see, but they have become integral to my finding a place in the Wharton community. During my Welcome Weekend, I quickly realized that, like the Marines, Wharton MBAs are a group of extremely driven individuals who exude a supreme level of confidence, competence and proficiency without the need for arrogance.
The humility that served me so well as a leader in the Marines is the same humility with which Wharton students carry themselves—confident never cocky in their ability to overcome great obstacles in order to achieve greater success and relishing the opportunity to be challenged or underestimated.
Despite my initial shock and apprehension upon arrival, Welcome Weekend allowed me to begin building a greater understanding about my place in the Wharton community. That one veteran grabbing me at the end our session allowed me to come into Wharton with an open mind and embrace the community and network that truly set Wharton apart.
Jamie Peace, a first-year MBA, majors in Finance and is pursuing a career in oil and gas. From Chestertown, MD, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001 and spent more than nine years in the Marines as an infantry, reconnaissance and special operations officer, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Jamie left the Marines in the summer of 2010 and briefly served as Deutsche Bank’s program manager for the Veterans on Wall Street Initiative.