My brain has been hijacked this past week.
There’s a small (but forceful) army chanting: My time at Wharton is coming to an end. My time at Wharton is coming to an end… And then, a whiny plea for justice: But that’s not fair; it’s only just begun.
These pestering half-truths (OK, exaggerations) have taken over all available cognitive real estate as I get resettled in Philly for my final year.”
I was recently joking with a close Wharton friend that this year feels like one giant Sunday, where I don’t want the weekend to end and Monday to begin. Maybe that’s being melodramatic. But I can’t help it—and several alumni I’ve spoken to have echoed the same sentiment—because it’s just not easy to leave this place.
Why is that?
For me, it’s the way the first year—no matter what you anticipate or believe before—surprises and delights you. And then, so wonderfully, you get another shot at it—translating those surprises into learnings, then into hopes. Because you immediately switch from being the ultimate novice to the ultimate expert, armed with the expertise in one very specific life experience—being a Wharton MBA.
As a kid, I used to make lists at the end each summer, writing down my favorite activities and memories. These lists would help me hold on to experiences I didn’t want to end. Since old habits die hard, here is my Wharton list, or rather, lists.
My Top 3 Surprises & Learnings from Last Year:
Being different is good.
Here’s the thing: I come from a nontraditional background. I used to be a teacher—of tiny 6- to 9-year-olds. Coming in, I was nervous. Would I “fit in”? Most of all—though I was confident that there was much for me to learn—I worried, would I also be able to contribute? I remember the first time I told my MGEC professor that I used to be a teacher. His eyes widened, he said, “Wow, that’s amazing, Ami.” Then he asked me for feedback on his teaching practice. Now, it’s not to say that I need professors to defer to my teaching “expertise,” but I gained comfort from knowing my differences were valued.
It’s not just a degree.
Wharton has an indescribably special set of people. I have already seen the inimitable benefits of having a “Wharton stamp” (on my resume, in emails, in conversations). Most of all, I’ve benefitted from meeting and learning from people who are more than one-dimensional, who have stories and ideas that contradict what one might expect, and who harbor great depth, curiosity and kindness.
There’s the former-finance-something-turned-consultant who started a “book club,” where each month ladies get together to lead and have discussions about current events and social issues (think: the energy crisis, the confidence gap, etc.). There’s the former college football player who nerds out on human capital and thinking about how companies can be better to their employees. It’s a rare and special breed here— and it is the biggest thing I will carry with me when I leave.
Time flies. You can’t make it slow down.
This was not a delightful surprise but rather a sad reality that I just can’t accept, still (see hope #1 below). I think it’s because life here is so full (of people, events and ideas) that suddenly, the week/month/year is over.
My Top 3 Hopes for This Year:
Try to make time slow down.
“Monday” is coming soon. I’ve literally googled, “how to make time slow down.” So far, nothing looks too promising. But I’m determined to find a way.
Learn the stories behind the stories. I’ve only begun to skim the surface with the incredible people here (see surprise #2 above). At a lunch in Rittenhouse late last year, I found out that my classmate’s father was once the most wanted man in Ethiopia—and the story of how he got to the States and what he’s like as a parent now. It took me all year to learn that, but when I did, it was definitely the most interesting conversation happening in Rittenhouse at that time—one that left me thinking after. This year, I want to accelerate the unveiling of those stories. I’m starting something for myself where each week I ask a different person to get a meal or coffee and ask them questions to “get deep” (hopefully, without being too creepy).
Start something I’m proud of—and leave something behind.
I started out nontraditional, and I’m going to end that way too. That was, frankly, always the plan. I’m passionate about people (not to beat a dead horse here or anything), and that’s the type of work I want to pursue—people and talent strategy. I’m not totally alone. So, my classmate and I are starting a group here to do just that (Wharton Human Capital Club). It’s a lot of work, and though we have ambitious goals and strong drive, the outcome is uncertain. Still, it certainly feels more than worth it to try.
Who knows, maybe working even harder in my last year is how I can slow down time …
Ami Patel C08 is a second-year MBA majoring in Strategic Management and Operations. Before Wharton, Ami served as the director of school systems leadership at Teach For America, prior to which she spent four years founding a charter school in Brooklyn as a teacher and dean. Ami received her B.A. at Penn in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics.