Last week, I traveled more than 7,000 miles (round trip) to attend my b-school’s five-year reunion in France. Apart from the apparent excitement of traveling to Europe, the trip had a huge emotional significance for me because that was an opportunity to see most of my alumni friends for the first time since we had graduated in 2007. However, at least some of my emotions were also bordering fear, because I was dreading the inevitable comparison of everyone’s success in their careers. Thus, while on the flight across the Atlantic, I kept asking myself how I’d feel if I found out that most of my fellow students were way ahead of me in their development.
Time rolled by quickly in the days leading to the Reunion Weekend, but as I finally arrived on campus, I discovered that all my fears had been in vain. I quickly realized that everyone else had pretty much felt the same trepidation on their way to campus. It took us only a minute to break the ice as we met for the first time as a group in five years. After a moment or two of hesitation, we all burst into hugs, kisses, and joyful conversations. The gossip, the drama, the emotions quickly overwhelmed all of us — even the most cold-blooded ones. It was a great weekend and I would like to share the highlights (and main lessons learned) with you in this post. If you want to experience — albeit indirectly — a few moments of the best weekend of my 2012 so far, keep reading.
Things Have Changed, But Not Really
The first thing I noticed when we all gathered for the welcome cocktail on Friday evening was that no one really looked that different. That was quite a shock to realize, knowing that five years had elapsed since we last spent time together as a group. People here or there had put on a pound or two, some of us had lost a bit more hair, or had added an extra wrinkle or two onto our faces. But, overall, we all looked like when we had gone to the final Graduation Party back in July 2007. Someone made the “wise” comment that perhaps that was due to the fact that we were already old when we went to school in the first place, so adding five years more did not really matter. Maybe that is indeed true, but I’d prefer to think that we had just managed to be the free-wheeling and young spirits that we were during our MBA year. Don’t believe me? Check out the photo below — we can still look fab in front of the camera, can’t we?
B-School Reality Show, Season 2
As the events unfolded, I had another interesting observation about the reunion. Despite the five-year hiatus, the drama had never really ended. The little cliques, which had seemingly disbanded after the Graduation Party in 2007, quickly re-emerged. The flirts picked up from where they were last left off when we all had said goodbye five years ago. The inconsequential yet very real animosities and rivalries resurfaced in the interactions between certain individuals.
As all this unfolded before my eyes, I quickly realized (with genuine satisfaction) that we were still human. If emotions could last for five years, despite everything that had happened in our individual lives during that interim period, then we must have had real feelings during that MBA year. We were not just alumni getting back together to compare notes, network and perhaps benefit professionally from meeting each other. Apparently, back in b-school we were friends after all — we had our good moments, but we also had our bad moments. We remembered all those sweet memories and readily succumbed for a day or two to the fantasy of re-living the lives we had in 2006/2007.
That was a very fresh and welcome revelation to me — I was glad to find something so humane in our interactions, after all the bad-mouthing going on about MBAs in much of the mainstream press these days. That proved that we had not gone to that school only to learn how to make piles of cash in the business world. In fact, we had gone there also to live a life full of adventures and emotions — a life we could readily go back to, albeit for a few days, when given the opportunity.
Doing a Bit of Business While Reuniting Would Not Hurt
Being the business people that we are, we could not resist diverging from the gossip and drama for a few moments to cover some all-important business issues. We did that in a somewhat frivolous style, though. No need for unnecessary formalities — we all knew each other all too well. Looking for an apartment in DC while visiting from Singapore? No problem — we could chat about that while enjoying the lovely May weather on the green outside the main school building.
The Talent Stays Fresh
One thing that I had always admired about the fellow students that went to b-school with me was the wide range of talents they possessed. Many of those talents were the complete opposite of what you’d expect from the future businessmen or businesswomen of the world. We had opera singers, movie directors, actors, rock stars…
The Reunion Weekend brought a sweet reminder of that diversity of raw talent that represented our class. Our own, home-brew rock band stepped on the stage after a long, five-year break. They had not met in person since Graduation in 2007 — yet, they had managed to rehearse a few songs on the internet.
The members of the rock band — all good friends of mine — were having a stage fright before stepping out for their gig. That stage fright, however, only took a few first chords to overcome. Soon, they were rocking all-time class favorites, such as U2’s With or Without You, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life. Despite not having met for a real rehearsal until the day before the ball, they even managed to crank out a few new songs — including a punk-rock remix of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. At the end of the hour-long gig, the whole group of alumni was ecstatic. Reunion was going full speed and we were getting ready for even more fun.
A Weekend to Remember for a Lifetime
In the weeks leading to the Reunion Weekend, many of us were complaining about the cost of the tickets as well as the selected location for the main event — the Reunion Ball. Many angry letters were sent to the Dean and the school’s administration; many “clever” comments were posted on a dedicated Facebook page. The biggest outrage was that the ball was to take place on campus — for the first time ever! People really wanted the ball to be organized at the near-by, grandiose and famous château. Most of us felt compelled to apply all kinds of MBA models to analyze the actual costs associated with the event and to show that we absolutely had to be reunited at exactly the same location where Marie Antoinette had once lived and where the current King and Queen of Thailand had met and fallen in love. There was something irresistible and magical about that château. Everyone felt that unless we had our ball at that very place, the whole Reunion would be a fiasco, in addition to being a complete rip-off.
Little did we know that the school had prepared a show well worth the money we had spent on that Reunion Weekend ticket. Building a world-class marquee tent for the main dance floor, plus turning the bar and cafeteria in the main building into a Buddha Bar-style lounge were not enough to assuage our complaints. Hiring several DJs to get our groove on did not suffice to impress us, either.
Three hours before the ball commenced, the school’s maintenance crews had started transforming the campus into a big, wide-open arena. Ropes were hung from one building’s rooftop to another’s. Huge banks of flood lights and speakers were erected. Mysterious installations on the rooftop of the library were duly constructed. Seeing all this preparation, we were still clueless as to the show that was scheduled to start at midnight.
Then, the ball began, and we all started becoming oblivious of the costly tickets and the location choice as we went through several rounds of champagne and sampled tasty canapés and hors d’oeuvres. When midnight struck, we were all ushered to the outdoor area to witness the big surprise that the school had put together in terms of the flagship entertainment for that night. The tribal drums started to beat, the musicians dressed in surreal and futuristic costumes emerged, the unearthly flamingo-looking creatures bathed in fireworks appeared on the rooftops. And then, the magic began — as several acrobats, all dressed in white, started descending down the walls of the buildings, hanging off the ropes.
Suddenly, we were all quiet — we quickly realized that despite all the downsides of not having a party at the château, we were in fact being exposed to something very beautiful, original and almost out of this world. For 30 minutes, we were all standing still, watching a Cirque du Soleil-style show, followed by an awe-inspiring cannonade of fireworks. The school had completely redeemed itself for not having the ball at the château.
“Best Year of Our Lives”
When we first started studying at that school in 2006, we were told by presenting alumni that we would experience “the best year of our lives.” When we graduated and started representing the school as alumni at MBA fairs and other recruiting events, we had started repeating the same line that the year at that school would be “the best year of the prospect students’ lives.” That phrase may sound pompous and even a bit arrogant. However, having survived all the eight hours of partying and audio-visual entertainment at the Reunion Ball, I knew for a fact that my five-year MBA reunion would easily qualify as one of the “best weekends of my life.”
P.S. I intentionally did not want to reveal the exact location and name of the business school. I’m writing this post as a personal experience and do not want to involve my fellow classmates and school into unneeded publicity. Based on some of the information in this post, many of you may be able to guess where this took place. For those who do, great job — please keep it to yourselves though! For those who don’t, I hope you manage to enjoy this story even without knowing all actual names and locations.