To the Class of 2016: Here’s to the Next Chapter

Sweet Sixteens,

Because my greatest memories of my Sloan experience have been grounded in storytelling, I’d like to begin this final post reflecting on our story together as the Class of 2016:

In the first semester, our story began. We moved quickly from knowing each other based on where we were from or what we used to do and instead through the collective memories we were beginning to create. First BHPs and parties at Whisky Saigon. Impromptu trips to Istanbul and Iceland for some of us, and consulting networking events for many of us. Somehow, amid the insanity, we made it from our first decision trees to our final finals in the Core. Like many of the sea birds associated with our Core teams, we went from just keeping our heads above water to learning to fly.

In second semester, our story received more shape and structure. Our lives at Sloan became less defined by our Oceans and more by the classes we chose to take, the activities on which we chose to spend our deviously finite time and energy, and—let’s be honest—to some extent, the roles and cities we sought for the summer. Let loose on the open “seas,” we more fully discovered the diversity of our classmates, whose intelligence and drive would make us feel as if our admission might have been a mistake.

After a summer away, halfway back in the working world, our story achieved depth. Coming home to campus after a summer apart, we knew better what we wanted from the rest of this experience, personally and professionally. We remained susceptible to committing too much and sleeping too little, but came into second year with more conviction and somewhat less FOMO. We were determined to focus on ourselves while making the most of these people and this place while it was still ours. It wasn’t always easy here, and certainly wasn’t cheap, but the ups and downs—and sometimes extravagant details—made our story together such a good one.

We started as names on cards in classrooms. Now we’re fully-formed characters—or perhaps “continuously improving” or “iterating” ones—set to go back out into the world and we get to choose how we let the story of the last two years define us in what comes next. And as someone who spent the past two years helping many of you share your personal stories, here’s what I hope you remember about stories as you graduate.

1. You have a story worth telling. A lot of you have also told me you don’t have “good enough” stories for something like the Yarn or “good stories” period. You may think you have nothing important to say—you’re wrong. Your stories have impressed me and they have and will impress others. How you were resilient in the wake of tragedy. How you found courage in the face of fear. Never underestimate the power of your story: just be brave enough to tell it, because you never know who else you’ll inspire.

2. No good “success story” is perfect. Tempting as it is, don’t compare your story to someone else’s, especially on social media. Think of the people you admire the most in the world—it’s likely they’re far from perfect. Being perfect is boring and it stops you from taking risks. No good “success story” is perfect. And while you’re on the grind toward that story, remember that you deserve your happy ending. When things aren’t happy, it’s just that they haven’t worked themselves out yet.

3. Learn from the stories of others. Through your hard work and luck, you get to call yourself a MIT graduate by this the end of this week, but your story is just as special as someone else’s. When you’ve “made it” and you’re flying high in business class, remember: the person pouring your champagne has a story, too. As you climb, stay grounded, listen, and learn from the stories of others—they’ll keep you honest and have something to teach you.

4. Your story is more than the places you work, the people you know, the titles you earn, or money you have. It’s about what you use all of them to do. You’re a “principled, innovative leader who will improve the world”—but the world you improve doesn’t need to be one thousands of miles away. It could just as easily be the world of the person sitting next to you as of someone on the opposite side of the planet. You will have an impact by doing good work and just as much by being a good person. Bring the values of this community—intelligence, humility, and integrity—out into the world with you.

5. Write a story you’ll be proud to tell. I always joked when I was a casewriter that one day I hoped someone would care enough about what I did to write a case about me. Maybe you want someone to actually write your story one day. Even if you don’t, write the story your kids will be proud of. Your community will be proud of. The story you’ll be proud to tell and will be empowered to tell by virtue of the success you will achieve.

Class of 2016, I hope this place cracked your head open, filled it to burst, and that you’ll never see the world the same way ever again. I hope your story will become richer with time and that tomorrow, 5 years, and 50 years from now, you will believe as truly as you do today that this was all worth it.

I hope these years will not the best years of your life, but just the beginning of the best years of your life. And I hope you’ll appreciate the greatness of what you’ve accomplished and what everyone here to celebrate you knows to be true: that even if just for today, you deserve to celebrate.

As you move your tassel on June 3 and turn the page, take advantage of the great start you had from attending MIT, and go out and make the rest of your story a good one.

Here’s to the next chapter,

Erica

Erica Zendell

Erica Zendell is a MBA Candidate in the MIT Sloan Class of 2016. A former HBS case writer and researcher of contemporary China, she aspires to work as a Product Manager at the crossroads of the real and digital worlds of retail. When not hitting the books, she hosts a podcast with a classmate called "The Business of Being Awesome" focused on inspiring MBAs to find work they love after business school, even if it means going off the beaten path (www.soundcloud.com/bizobapodcast).

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1 Comment

  1. Erica, Congratulations on your imminent graduation. I am so delighted that I got to know you through our work together on the student blogs, where you showed your extraordinary talent for writing and for instinctively picking the best topics. I’ll miss you, of course, but will follow your career with great interest. Somehow I think I’ll be reading about it. Here’s to you! Harriet

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