Tuesday, May 24, 2011


On Sunday, I was nervous. My stomach would get in knots whenever I thought about delivering the commencement speech on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, my friend Carla, in town from North Carolina, has been an amazing support and welcome distraction all weekend. We spent a fun (albeit cold) day at Coney Island. I recommend the freak show.

But as I was trying to fall asleep on Sunday night, with lines of my speech and various logistics of graduation day running through my head, I could feel the bed shaking as my heart was thumping and pounding with nerves. I could momentarily calm myself down with reassurances like, "You can do this!" but those were generally fleeting. Overall, I thought, "If I'm this terrified now, in bed, I really might die of an anxiety attack tomorrow."

On Monday morning, I woke up early, and Carla and I watched my favorite episode of "The Golden Girls" ("Bang the Drum Stanley"). Fearing parking problems arising from a usual trip to the gym, I took a jog around my neighborhood (East Rock), which did wonders. I made a well-rounded breakfast but didn't make too much progress eating it.

There was some uncertainty in the morning about whether the folks from Student Academic Services would postpone graduation for rain. This was a call they had to make by 8:30 a.m. The rain plan would mean a new time and venue. Despite being overcast, the regular time and place were kept. I skipped the large morning ceremony, as I'd always intended to do, because I had family members and friends driving into New Haven around that time. In all, I feel really lucky to have had lots of my favorite people in the audience on my behalf -- Carla, Kristin, Dave, Matt, Shiri and her husband Adam and son Josh, and my brothers and parents.

In the moment of the proceedings, I was much calmer than I'd expected. I think the key was having smiling faces of friends around me, joking and enjoying the day. This lifted me out of my fright and made the occasion fun, as of course it should be. We lined up in alphabetical order in front of Steinbach and filed into Caulkins Courtyard, and I broke from the group and took a seat on the side of the stage to await my cue. Dean Oster gave a short, characteristically dry opening, and then Economies of Scale, a four-person male a cappella group consisting of three second-years and my good friend Bryce from the first year, did a funny ditty about SOM. This all went by quickly, and the breeze in the courtyard and misty humidity just made the environment so pleasant, there was no place to be freaking out. I'd considered many mental tricks I was going to play on myself to keep calm, but ended up forgetting them, or not needing them. I just waited and went up when my name was called, and it was fine.

I was thrilled to get through it in one piece, and happy with how it went. People seemed to enjoy it, and I received some kind and encouraging compliments.

This was a very special occasion not just because of graduation but because it was also a family reunion, as well as the first time some of my oldest friends have ever met. It was surreal to be in the classroom where I took things like Accounting, Spreadsheet Modeling and Employee, A74, and see these people who are so important to me eating sandwiches and talking to one another. It was very dream-like.

Afterward, Carla and I drove to my brother's house for snacks, and so I could say hello to my sister-in-law and nephews, and then we all went out to dinner. We talked about many topics, like bridges, Bin Laden and favorite meals -- not much about ourselves, which is typical of my family, who seem to subscribe to Don and Betty Draper's belief that it's rude to talk about oneself. We had a nice time.

Anyway, it was a great day. I'm glad I ran for speaker, because it's something I'll always remember. And I'm glad I decided to get an MBA!

There's one line from my speech about how during school I've learned that becoming my best does not mean changing into someone else, but rather means having confidence in what makes me original. I think that relates to the main question of this blog, which is what it's like for a journalist to get an MBA. I've heard this characterized as a major leap, as if I were a mime who decided to go to medical school.

But I came to realize that a lot of the skills I took for granted in my career are valued, useful and important in business -- things like writing clearly, being accurate and fair, asking probing questions, and making sure I do whatever I have to do to understand something.

It hasn't all been seamless. I had never looked at an income statement before school, nor had I given even a passing thought to stock markets or how one might value a company. So there were vocabulary and conceptual gaps that I'd consider unclosable, although I made some headway. And disposition-wise, I think there's a tendency for journalists to want to stay quietly off to the side, which is at odds with management education that encourages one to make waves. Journalists do make waves, but by observing and communicating, not "leading" in the traditional management sense.

But overall, the transition from newspapers to business wasn't as much of a leap as one might expect. I wanted to get an MBA to have a healthier and faster-moving career, to experience a new environment, and to see how far I could challenge myself, and I did all that and more.

I appreciate all of you who were regular readers, as well as those of you who popped in and out. I hope any of this was interesting or useful. It was to me.


  1. I have always been a fan of your blogging (beginning with your Caller Times blog) and I hope you continue blogging about the next chapter of your career.

    John, I wish you the very best!

  2. Congratulations, I'm so proud of you!