Monday, June 15, 2009

MBA: Convocation!

I am an MBA now.

In this post you will read about the how The University of Chicago convocation works, and how I felt going through it.

It was the culmination of a sequence of fairytale events! As a kid running through the mango groves (You can read more about that here), I was incapable of dreaming that one day I could get The University of Chicago on my resume. I didn’t know what a resume was anyways! As I went through the day, I constantly thought of the path thus far, and the way ahead!

The following words will be a curry reflecting motions and emotions of the day. By the way – we ended the day with a sumptuous Indian dinner at Sabri Nihari on Devon Ave.! My day started with me trying to fix my blog which I had infected with a hidden piece of code that dished out “Escort services” ads! It was a disaster of an attempt to convert my blog into a magazine style format. I could not get it done before I began running short of time. Surely, I did want to turn up for the event of my life on time in order to prevent certain services from being sold! (Hahaha?) Later, I had to sit up till 3AM to fix it after I eventually came home.

Early in the morning my room-mate, another Boothie, my parents, and I, took a cab to the Harper Quad. The ceremony has been held at the Quad in an open-air setting every quarter since the second year of the university’s life, circa 125 years ago. However, the ceremony and the process have evolved significantly. These days, the convocation is organized into multiple numbered sessions. Each session is on a different day, and is focused on a different school in the university. The Chicago Booth convocation was the Session IV. I arrived on the venue at 10:40 am, and we were among the first few. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 11:45. To kill time, I began taking photographs in the beautiful lawns in that area. It was a great sunlit day - the Sun God Himself was happy for us! It was in a stark contrast to the pall of darkness that Rain God casted over the College convocation this year, and the Chicago Booth Class of 2008 convocation last year. By 11:20 am people began to arrive in droves, and the area filled up.

I headed to Ratner, the assembly area, with a large group of students. As we walked along the university roads the mood was gay, and I was hyper. I was clicking everything that moved and was making a significant amount of noise. Over the next few hours, I accumulated nearly 300 photographs. I was eager to take pictures of my friends, with whom I had spent two fantastic years of my life – sharing joys, disappointments, and dreams. When we arrived at Ratner, there were tables at the entrance which were giving pre-assigned numbers printed on cards to students. After yelling for a while, “Please hold on to you number, there is going to be a raffle afterwards!” I decided to look for my place. (Hahaha?) I was 140, and was required to find 139 and 141, and park myself between them. However, I was satisfied with just finding my queue, and immediately restarted my relentless photograph taking spree. I also kept yelling, “Move quicker, they are running out of diplomas!” (Hahaha?)

When, the provost of the university, began to speak, I fell in line. She explained the process to us. The numbers were in order that the diplomas were stacked in, and the names would be called out. I was amazed by the superb organization of the whole process from start to finish. Every queue had a trained volunteer to guide its march. With almost a military precision, we began our move to the Quad. I continued my photo-shoot. On the way a band with bag-pipers and drummers took its place at the head of procession, behind the flag-bearers. Soon the Quad appeared, and along with throngs of people lining the road and cheering. Bobby Zimmer, President of the University , Ted Synder, Dean of Chicago Booth, Prof. Raghu Rajan, the Convocation speaker, and a host of other VIPs waited by the road-side and cheered us on. Everyone was trying to find their dear ones to wave at. Soon, the queues were efficiently shunted off to their seating places in the front half of the seating area, and next to the canopy where the satraps of the University stood. Our folks were in the half away from the canopy. There were some people sitting on the either side of the students as well. All in all – it was one fine country fair!

Some music and singing was followed by speeches. Prof. Rajan spoke eloquently about both crisis and hope. Joseph Eazor, an SVP at Hewlett Packard, made some remarks after him.

Soon enough, they began to handout diplomas. Cheers erupted as the names were announced. It was interesting to see how some people cheered only for those whom they liked, while some others cheered and clapped for all the 720 people who got their degrees. My time to get up came soon, and I walked towards the canopy. On the way, a photographer asked me to stand at a marked spot, as he clicked a picture. I entered the canopy from one end, and walked towards the President. The pace of the event was controlled by two marshals who tapped the shoulder of the student with a baton to make them stop. I am not sure if that was traffic control or a ritual.

Despite multiple email reminders, I had not left the mandatory voice message on Dean Ann Harvilla’s phone to advise her on how to pronounce my name. I was hoping that should would mispronounce it and give me something to remember, and everyone something to laugh at. When the moment came, Dean Harvilla faultlessly executed the act of speaking my name - just like she did with each of the other 719 names, weaving through international accents and dialects. Till that time I was just happy and wasn’t too bothered. But when I heard my name, an unknown emotion gripped me. A person, who prides in his self-control, stepped forward towards the President like a zombie. I smiled only when I noticed that he was smiling hard. He gave me a paper worth $150,000+ interest and all my hopes from the future, and pumped my hand. I think someone took a photograph. Then I almost missed Dean Snyder, and he had to tap me on the shoulder. I think he did that. Maybe, he didn’t! I turned and shook his hand, and faced the world armed with my M.B.A!

As I walked down the stairs, I felt both invincible and vulnerable. I felt invincible because I was now recognized to be amongst the most skilled business professionals in the world. So far so good! I felt vulnerable because I was not sure how I’d wield the Excalibur I was just handed. Will I do well for the society and for myself?


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