We received  our Learning Team assignments a few days into our Leadership Residency. These were the formal teams that we were assigned to work with for at least the first two semesters of school. Our teams were expected to meet regularly outside of class to work on group projects and support each other throughout the semesters. The members of Learning Team 5 (nicknamed “Highly Entertaining”) were six brave souls with a breadth of professional backgrounds spanning accounting, financial services, investments, law and the military.

The senior statesman of our group was Shawn who had a career in the United States Air Force. Not only had Shawn served to lead combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Shawn also had a unique skill- he was a professional opera singer. Where does Darden find these people with such diverse backgrounds?

In addition to starting Darden, Shawn was in the middle of three significant life events. He was completing a divorce, transitioning jobs and waiting for surgery to remove a brain aneurysm that was on the peak of rupturing. Just when you think you’ve got a full plat entering school, someone like Shawn immediately puts your situation into perspective.

As Learning Team 5 assembled Wednesday evening for dinner, Shawn shared his medical condition with us. Shawn was optimistic about the outcome of his scheduled surgery and assured us that he would be back in September for the first three day residency. While that seemed almost impossible to comprehend, we hoped he was right. As Shawn opened up about his condition and the uncertainty of his future, he opened the door for me to feel comfortable sharing my Dad’s news with my Team.

Throughout the week, Shawn was a fun and meaningful contributor to our team and classroom discussions. He brought a much needed jolt of life perspective to our team when we got down too far “in the weeds” on our assignments. When class concluded on Saturday, I looked forward to seeing him in September and wished him well over  the next month.

Shawn’s condition was more complicated than originally thought and one week after leaving Darden, Learning Team 5 received an email from him. Shawn’s email read,

“I am very sorry to say that I can’t make this part of the journey with you.  I think you all are so amazing, and was really looking forward to conquering this MBA with each of you, and the rest of our great cohort.  Sadly, that is not to be. But with any luck, one day we will ALL be alumni together.”

Even though we only spent a week getting to know Shawn, he would be missed and looked forward to seeing him back at Darden the next fall.

About two weeks after we received Shawn’s email, we received word that Shawn’s aneurysm had ruptured while he was waiting for his medical team to determine the appropriate next steps for his treatment. Shawn was in a medically induced coma at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. As of the date of this writing, Shawn remains in a coma. We are all thinking of Shawn and hoping for him to fully recover. In the interim, he remains an inspiration to us for even attempting to start Darden while carrying  an enormous load. He also serves as an ongoing reminder to maintain perspective on what’s important during our journey.


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