It was like a scene in a movie. Dad hugs kids and kisses wife goodbye before walking to the car with his suitcase in hand. Dad then drives off watching the family on the front porch through the rear view mirror.
My first morning departing for Darden looked very similar to this scene with one important exception – dad was blasting “The Humpty Dance” from the car as he drove off. Day 1 at Darden had arrived and things were about to get real.
As members of the Executive MBA Class of 2016 filed into their pre-assigned seats, we were greeted by the program director, Barbara Millar. Barbara shared with us that our first day at Darden was going to be different than any other day we’d have at school; we had a number of administrative tasks to handle like securing our ID badges, setting up our computers, learning about Honor at UVA and touring the Lawn.
There would be no academic work today, only time to get acquainted to our new surroundings and members of our cohort. After thirteen years gaining differing perspectives of UVA as an employee, I was beginning to see the University through a new lens, as a student. It didn’t take long after putting on the student lens to start thinking about one of the most notorious part of student life at UVA – streaking.
At 41, was I too old to streak the Lawn while singing “The Humpty Dance”?
Time would tell.
My thoughts of brief (hopefully) incarceration vanished as we began to hear from the faculty. Every interaction with faculty was the high quality that I expected. The students in my class, however, were far more impressive than I could have imagined; they were incredibly accomplished and brought a range of experiences from virtually every business sector.
While I was not surprised by the compliment of backgrounds from financial services, health care, law, banking, investments, consulting, and information technology, what stood out most was the group of current and former members of the US Armed Forces. Approximately a third of our class had current or former military, many of whom had served in combat operations in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
I sat next to one of those war veterans named Mike at lunch. (I quickly learned that this didn’t really narrow it down much as there are at least 6 guys named Mike in our class. There were almost as many Mikes as women.) As we casually chatted about our backgrounds and reasons for choosing Darden, Mike shared his experiences in the Army in Iraq. The stories he shared over lunch blew me away (no pun intended).
Mike had studied at West Point and was deployed to Iraq thereafter. He was now a civilian working in a leadership role in the private sector. Mike was bright, articulate and funny. As I internally compared his experience to mine, I was humbled and incredibly appreciative of his years of service.
Mike recounted stories of leadership in the post Iraq war occupation. As I sat and listened to his stories, one overwhelming thought came to mind – this guy had experienced these things well before his 30th birthday. My first official leadership role didn’t formally begin until I was almost 33, but Mike had a leadership role in combat operations well before reaching 30.
If this was the kind of leadership talent Darden was recruiting to my cohort, I couldn’t wait to begin the formal portion of the program on Day 2. Streaking the Lawn would have to wait … for now.