In December 2014, right after receiving my MBA degree in the post, I also received an imperative (and suitably impenetrable) email from the LBS IT department advising me that I would be migrated to alumnus status as of the following Friday, meaning that my school email and electronic storage would shut down.
So I was busy sorting through emails, assignments and case studies. My last two years. I’m going to give in to the cliche and say it: it was a very bittersweet moment. And, of course, it was also almost Christmas, and almost the end of the year, so everything kind of conspired to ask for a moment of looking back, taking stock, and wondering – was it all worth it?
Which is when I came across a Word document called “Toast”. I couldn’t remember any case studies about bakeries so I had to open the document to figure out which course it belonged to. It wasn’t a case study at all, but my notes for an actual toast – the one I made at our end-of-year-one masquerade ball. And I can’t think of a better explanation of why it was all worth it:
“I’ve agonised over what to say here, first because I’ve never had to do a toast before and second because I couldn’t think of anything to say that would really convey how much this year has meant for me – short of belting out “I love you guys” with “Friends will be friends” playing in the background, which would have been a little pathetic as toasts go.
So then I figured – I’ll just say something about macroeconomics. For one reason or another, that should get everyone really excited! So here’s the one thing we learned in macro which I can guarantee is 100% true – one of the reasons Eastern Europe is lagging behind in development is that we suffer from a lack of social capital. That’s just a needlessly fancy way of saying we have serious trust issues. Being Eastern European is kind of like instead of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, you cram the angel and the devil on the same shoulder and on the free shoulder you have this sour little babushka whose official responsibility is to bring you back to “real life” whenever there’s any danger of the rose-tinted glasses coming out. Whoever you talk to, she’ll go “where’s the catch? what’s the hidden agenda? how are you getting tricked here?”
Which means that when I started researching MBAs and kept coming across people saying “the academics and all that are great but the most amaaaazing thing about the MBA was that I made these amaaaazing friends for life”, I didn’t buy that at all. I was like – this person is either one of those insincere professional networker types or someone who had really bad grades. All the talk about a “safe, supportive learning environment” was also kind of hard to swallow. Yeah, take 75 super-competitive types and add a grading curve. That’s a no-brainer recipe for a safe and supportive environment. Right.
And then the most incredible thing happened. I found myself parachuted, once every two weeks, into this parallel universe that blew away all my cynical expectations. Yes, everyone is super-competitive (Ok, some more than others), but also really supportive – the vibe is: we want to know what your dreams are and we’ll push you to reach them, with some tough love, if needed. We’re forever talking about the big issues – life, love, dreams, what success really means, what we really want in life – and, of course, the all-important question of which celebrity you really fancy. We get really silly – and super-serious. But at the same time, the most amazing thing is, as my husband put it after our epic Belgrade trip, “You know what’s strange about your LBS group? You guys just fully accept each other, just for who you are”. Which is so true – and kinda magical.
So here I am, less than a year after meeting all of you, and I’ve become that person telling everyone “you know, the most amaaazing thing about the MBA was that I made all these amaaaazing friends, and we’re going to be friends for life”. And, of course, my Romanian friends look at me like I’m insane. And of course, my own babushka is dutifully whispering in my ear: “Oh please, cut the violins. You must realise that none of this is real and it won’t last – this is a highly artificial environment, it won’t survive the real world.” And she’s partially right. This isn’t what real life is like. But that’s just the thing. Let’s keep this unreal. We’re the DREAM class – so dream big, dream wild, keep sharing those dreams with the rest of us and know that we’ll all be there rooting for you every step of the way, not because your being successful will make our networks more impressive or useful, but because, you know, we love you – for who you are and for who we know you can become.”
And yeah, another year on, I still felt the same – except that electives had brought me some more “amaaaazing” friends, and I was even more certain of everything I’d said.