Looking into Rowan Williams’ eyes while he speaks Latin to you is a strange experience. The ex-Archbishop of Canterbury is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and was presiding over the congregation ceremony on 14th May, where I received my MBA degree. When called forward, I knelt in front of him as he sat in his gold throne in scarlet robes, he placed his hands around mine which were together as if in prayer, and he recited something in a dead language I did not understand.
The Cambridge Executive MBA 2014 class graduated last weekend, drawing to a close 20 months of intense experience. Just some of the things that have come to an end include hours of late night study (and non-study), time away from family and other loved ones, college dinners in candlelit wood-panelled rooms, looming deadlines, doing the reading, sometimes pretending to have done the reading, engaging in discussion in the safe space of the classroom, and the feeling of going through all this as a band of allies all pushing to the same goal.
In truth, there was some divergence of goals through the programme. For some of us, gaining the harder, technical skills was the motivation. For others, myself included, the course was more of an opportunity for deep self-inquiry and more abstract thought. However, this tension was only significant enough to notice on a few occasions, and the course was sufficiently varied to cater for both camps very well. I enjoyed being pushed on the technical side as well as the ‘touchy-feely’ side.
Talking to my wife about how I have changed since starting the course, she said she thought I am “less strident, but more confident”. I count that as a victory. I hope it reflects that I am questioning my own views more, and acknowledging more shades of grey where they might exist. When I then do come to a view on something, it is hopefully more considered and robust. I also love that I can change my mind more easily when confronted with alternative views that are better or more valid than my existing opinion, and I would hope that’s something that most of the class got out of our collective experience.
On the evening of our graduation day we enjoyed a gala dinner at the Guildhall in Cambridge, with great speeches by our wonderful classmates Farah Ahmad Perez and Sami Masannat, and our programme director Dr Khal Soufani. Class prizes were awarded for the academic high-achievers in various areas of the course, and there was also an award for Outstanding Contribution to Class Dynamic voted for by the class. I was honoured and humbled to share this last prize with my course-long sparring partner Tony Catachanas. While we disagreed often, it was in the spirit of learning and exploration, and always in good humour. Thanks to the class for acknowledging us both in this way.
Coming back to that list of things that have come to an end, I fervently hope that there is as long a list of things that will continue. First and foremost, I hope the friendships we have made on the course will stretch out years into the future. There are a number of my colleagues with whom I have found strong connections and I’m sure that these will endure for many years. As a wider class, too, we have created a well-used Whatsapp group which I hope will continue to be a place to learn what Nik Shahrizal is eating at any given moment, as well as idle chat about births, holidays, weddings and other fun life events.
Also, I hope none of us lose the drive to question, learn and grow as people in both our professional and personal lives. Some of the material we have been exposed to, and the ideas exchanged with my classmates around that material, will stay with me.
Another thing that won’t end is our link to one of the great institutions of the world, the University of Cambridge. It is a privilege to count myself as an alumnus of this 800-year old seat of learning. I fully expect us as a class to be worthy of the association. Let’s see what the next few years bring, but I can’t wait to see how the class will take the knowledge and experiences of the last 20 months and run with them.
So thanks to all of our great lecturers and teachers throughout the course, to the programme team for all their hard work, to the phenomenal speakers who excited and challenged us at our Friday dinners, to our families and loved ones for the selfless encouragement and support, but most of all to this ragbag of diverse, caring, clever, funny, thoroughly decent group of classmates I proudly call my friends. Love to you all.