I remember, back when the world was barely getting used to pronouncing ‘two thousand eleven’ without missing a beat, we were already dropping the year 2013 into conversations thanks to our class tag. In 2011, hearing the dean say ‘class of 2013’ provoked an exciting dissonance in my head, like déjà vu. We were getting ready for the future while immersing ourselves in a mixture of business science, which the school knew how to conduct and explain; and soft skills – some of which, frankly, I did not even know the names of at that time.
Professors with seemingly inexhaustible energy were able to decode not only the world surrounding us but also ourselves, interpreting our behaviour to us in real time in the classroom.
In the breaks between classes, we were running between lecture theatres, stocking up on salted nuts and coffee, lamenting over the pile of articles we would somehow have to read by the next day.
The future was bright.
And it came way too soon.
It is 2023 today.
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I have not been back to the UK in a long time. But whenever I’ve gone, it’s felt like going home. Everything is familiar. I can take long walks from Canary Wharf to Regent’s Park and not get lost once. The school has the same welcome desk and the greenest front lawn I have ever seen, with the coolest garden chairs scattered around when the sun is out; if you are in luck, you can spot the dean himself, greeting current and former students in the open space.
The building bears a characteristic aroma, a mixture of cleaning products and the brain fumes of generations of students, reinventing the world. I can see myself and my classmates sitting around the tables in study rooms on the first floor, solving case studies. I would have hugged each one of them then if I had known any better, because as one of them said ten years later, the greatest gift in life is to become old friends with people.
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The school throws a party for our reunion. The professors speak with the same energy I remember from ten years ago: I always thought academics were introverted, but when they are on a stage, they shine.
In parallel, I bask in the warm welcome from fellow alumni gathered on the lawn. They greet me with the kind curiosity characteristic of most interactions at the school. I love the networking here: with a glass in my hand, I can approach anyone and just fire up a conversation. And I know better than to fall for the unassuming style and self-depreciating humour. People come to this school with singular stories.
My classmates have the same smiles they had when we were graduating. Yet there is a different aura about them, shaped by experience. This is the wonderful gift of age: my peers and I have become more of what we have always been, but in its improved version, like a polished stone, smooth to the touch after having been cradled by the waves for a long time.
One of my friends helps me seize the experience in words: we have gotten more skilled in knowing how to be, how to be with each other and with the world around us. We became better at living life. We know how to go about getting what we want for ourselves and our families, we know how to get help and how to help others. We appreciate more and more those who cross our paths.
The school and its ecosystem encourage people to connect across programs, ages and professions. When this propensity to connect is combined with the kind curiosity people have about one another, it creates a community capable of introducing profound perspectives into conversations. I cherish these gifts, and whenever I have an opportunity to speak with my peers, I prepare in advance topics I need help with, counting on their ability to see far.
It was during one those casual, ‘no big deal’ conversations with one of my classmates that I understood the importance of staying until the end.
Another classmate shared how he would navigate a business relationship I had talked to him about. What I heard from him transformed how I run not only that relationship, but also my life.
It was while catching up with a friend I used to sit on school benches with that I found words for this blog.
And so on.
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This is the furthest north I have been on a bicycle. Everything is different: the weather is different, the morning light is different, the forest smells different after the rain. I listen to a different language that puts the accent on the most unexpected of syllables. Yet, as I pedal through a small coastal town, lifting my face to the sun, admiring the contrast between the blue sky and tops of pastel-painted buildings, I feel at home.
Several of my schoolmates live in this part of the world. I can find my way here, too.