After graduation five years ago, I really didn't think I'd have much of an excuse to come back and update this blog, but as I was flying back to Philadelphia from my 5-year HBS reunion, I realized I had almost neglected a very real part of the HBS experience.
In what I'm sure comes as no surprise, Harvard wasted no expense in putting together a fantastic weekend of programming with ample opportunities to catch up with classmates, but also expand your brain and continue the lifelong learning process. Of course, we paid a pretty penny for the experience ($275 per person prior to the "early registration" deadline), but it reminded me once again why Harvard is one of the best institutions in the United States.
Programming officially began on Friday morning with registration, breakfast and an address from the Dean in Burden auditorium. Even just walking the campus and sitting in Burden started to bring back fond memories, and everywhere I turned it felt as though I was running into someone else to hug. It's funny because I mentioned in an earlier blog post that during the first few weeks of HBS, everyone got asked the same three questions: "Where are you from?", "What did you do before HBS?" and, "What do you want to do after graduation?" Well, at reunion, it was a similar game, although the questions had shifted to: "Where do you live now?", "What are you doing these days?" and, most provocatively, "Are you happy?" By the end of the weekend, I had my 5-year elevator pitched nailed down so well that I'm not sure I'll ever forget it.
After the Dean's address, the morning was filled with panel and lecture sessions from faculty members, as well as refreshment breaks for networking and more catching up. I got to attend a lecture from one of my favorite professors, Anita Elberse, and also one from my former strategy professor, Frank Cespedes. After a section lunch, I took a tour of the newly built Harvard Innovation Lab (which I'm totally jealous didn't exist when I was a student) and then met up with my section mates in our old classroom for more catching up.
This seems like a good time to take a step back and address my earlier comment about feeling a bit fearful coming to reunion. Firstly, as an introvert, I was afraid that no one was going to want to talk to me. Looking back this was a ridiculous fear, because everywhere I turned I found someone to talk to - even people I had never really had a close relationship with as a student. Perhaps more deeply, I was afraid of admitting to people that I wasn't exactly happy with where I had landed 5 years post-graduation. I hate my job. I get pangs of anxiety every day when I have to head to work, and the constant feeling of being stressed out and not loving what you do can really break a gal down. As an HBS graduate, I've felt a bit of pressure to "succeed" - whatever that really means - so coming back 5 years later and not presenting the perfect picture of success to the world made me feel ashamed. To my surprise, nobody judged me, and in fact, everyone I spoke to was more interested in learning about what I would pursue next, while sharing their encouragement. I never should have doubted the power of the HBS network.
Our first night concluded with a section party at The Liberty Hotel, although I only stayed an hour and a half because my social quotient was off the charts and I had a big day ahead of me for Saturday. Of course, Saturday brought with it some more panels, including an INCREDIBLY inspiring one by Executive Coach, Stever Robbins, whose words may very well have been life changing for me (but that's another blog post for the future). After an afternoon off-campus with one of my best friends from high school, I got into my formal gown and Uber-ed over to the Top of the Hub Skywalk on the 50th floor of the Prudential Center for our gala, which I had planned for the reunion.
It was a magical night. From a logistical standpoint, the space turned out beautiful, the flowers and linens looked great, the food was delicious and all of the vendors (from the DJ to the photographers to the cigar roller) showed up and seemed to be a hit. Even better, although I thought I had seen almost everyone already between the two days on campus, there were endless additional people to greet and swap stories with.
Highlight of the night? Reuniting with 4 (of my 5) learning team members for a group picture. It took quite a bit of effort to corral these guys into one location, but we made it happen and will look forward to taking another one at our 10th reunion. Here's a picture of us back when we first met in 2008 and one from last night. I don't think we look a day older. :)
And that was it! This morning I grabbed an early flight home with a really full heart and a new dose of inspiration about my future. I think I had lost a bit of my self confidence in my most recent career debacle, so being back at HBS reminded me that I was, and still am, a part of something incredibly special, and one bad experience with a few people that don't recognize just how awesome I am doesn't mean that's going to be the way it is always. Now I just have to hope that Harvard doesn't come back asking me to pay them additional tuition for learning that nugget over the weekend.
For anyone stumbling upon or still reading this blog, I hope this special post gives you a glimpse of all that's yet to come, even after you complete your degree. When HBS says you're a member of the family for a lifetime, they really mean it, and I couldn't be prouder to be an alumna.