“I Went Home”
Before anyone ever cared where I would attend grad school, I was a kid with West Virginia roots. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with West Virginia is bigger than academics. I didn’t realize that 10 months ago. I do now.
Remember when I was sitting up there at the BIF last month? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. The U of I, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past 10 months helped raise me into who I am. I became a better businessman and a better drinker. I learned from a program that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of the U of I as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.
I went to the U of I because of Joyce and James. We made sacrifices to keep Siva. I loved becoming a big bro to Pretty Ricky. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are Team Navy Pier for life. I also want to thank Rich and Lisa for giving me an amazing 10 months.
I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Dilip Chhajed didn’t get along. … He and Leblebici didn’t get along. … The program couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.
I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.
When I left Bloomington, I was on a mission. I was seeking to avoid academic probation, and I did. But the “second years” already knew that feeling. The “first years” haven’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to get as many A’s as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing a graduate degree back to West Virginia.
I always believed that I’d return to West Virginia and visit my family. I just didn’t know when. Before Immersion Weekend, vacation wasn’t even a thought. But I have two daughters and my wife, Kelly, is not pregnant at all. I started thinking about what it would be like to go to a family reunion in my dad’s hometown. I looked at other vacation destinations, but I wasn’t going to leave the U of I for anywhere except West Virginia. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
To go on vacation I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very persuading. Losing the latest scavenger hunt, gaining 15 pounds in 10 months, coming in second place in the Littlefield simulation -- hearing about all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with my classmates ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to a grad student, and that grad student made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve looked in the mirror, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
I’m not promising to graduate with honors. I know how hard that is to deliver. I’m not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want straight A’s next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was last fall. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a new study group and a new job. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented professionals. I think I can help Jonah become one of the best leaders in our class. I think I can help elevate Lewis and Greg. And I can’t wait to reunite with Jen, one of my favorite classmates.
But this is not about the EMBA class of 2015. I feel my calling here goes above academics. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference at the U of I, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in West Virginia, like the Beards Fork third-graders that my cousin counsels, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
In West Virginia, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I went home for my family reunion after the Immersion Weekend.
Illinois EMBA 2015