“There they are, just follow them my dear.” I thanked the reassuring waiting staff member before turning my back on the Pembroke dining hall. I was one of the last ones out, having lingered to catch up with some fellow graduates. Tonight we were guests at the High Table, perched on the dais opposite the entrance and looking out over the many tables of students feasting on their three-course dinners. I thought I might have lost the High Table company, but there they were, as pointed out, black robes and smart shoes making their way across Chapel Quad.
I hurried down the steps, turning left to follow the bend of the paving (“please keep off the grass”). Swift strides quickly closed the gap with the company as they slowed to enter the Senior Common Room, the place where this post-dinner ritual has played out since 1846. Relief swum over me to know that I had found them – second dessert was not something to be missed! Port from the Fellow’s cellars, idiosyncratic traditions and continuing conversation are all prized in this intriguing land of ancient modernity. As the door neared, I looked out East to the waxing half-moon. Glimmering in the crisp Autumn sky above the Chapel, the moon triggered a most peculiar thought. I’ve seen you somewhere before… In a different lifetime – no no, it must be this one. Yes – an old friend. From a time before I set foot in this dream…
It is difficult to believe that it has only been a month since the MBA journey began. Classes are fully underway and our first assessments are just around the corner. Even though our lecturers are some of the best I have ever had, it has become clear that the greatest value in this year awaits outside of the classroom. The real challenge is staying on top of your studies so that you have the freedom to explore the wonders of the University.
Some recent highlights, in no particular order, include the President of Gabon decrying presidential term limits as an impractical red herring, the focused rhythm of eight novice rowers gliding across the afternoon water and the cling-cling of my bicycle bell while weaving between pedestrians on cobbled roads en route to College… Needless to say my honeymoon period in Oxford is in full bloom.
MBA students have an interesting reputation on campus – we are associated with a lot that is not patient, nuanced or considered out in the world. This includes the short-term-ism of quarterly earnings, the regrettable suggestion that the only social responsibility of business is profits, and the unsound voyage towards infinite growth on a finite planet. The stigma suggests a reputation for being more interested in extracting from community than in being of service to it. I am hugely encouraged by our MBA cohort’s desire to create social value. Perhaps these shifting attitudes reflect a more widespread, growing conscientiousness?
The last two weeks have been particularly touching. It was quite something to realise how lonely I felt in this new group of profound strangers. A good friend reminded me that we are all just looking to connect and make friends in this overwhelming, beautiful experience. Something in me softened, and I began to open up. I pitched for the position of section representative with a poem, and was held by the auditorium of classmates as I took my leap of faith. The conversations with my peers have become more personal, and I am finding a home among these kind souls that the business school so brilliantly attracts.
To cap it all, we matriculated at the end of our first academic week – a ceremony that “confers membership of the University on students”1. After a day of photos, we made our way to the Sheldonian Theatre for the formal ceremony, opened (as all good things in Oxford) in traditional Latin. This same ritual has united Oxonians for hundreds of years. It was such a special day – one that takes you back to your first day of school, and the pride of your parents as you set out into the world. I got the sense that my Mom was beaming bright, and that she would have taken way too many photos of her son in a bow-tie at the foot of the Radcliffe Camera.
This poem burst forth after a brisk walk to class on a particularly still morning, when I remembered to breathe. Oxford has a way of taking your breath away.
With piercing clarity,
sunlight illuminates the space between,
Words clumsy, worn,
against the height of the peaks
they intend to reveal.
Circle back, press on,
find the origin.
In the still quiet before
that first breath:
panic strung across eternity,
heart held anticipatory,
1. University of Oxford 2018, Matriculation, University of Oxford, viewed 20 October 2018, https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/new/matriculation?wssl=1
2. Matriculation picture: thanks to Arshad Taylor who nailed the facial expression, with unbelievably well-timed photo credit to Sergio Montes De Oca.