It is now 5 years since I graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School. When we first came to the school 6 years ago in May 2009, the one and only Prof John Thomas asked us to write a note for ourselves. A note that would lay out the blueprint of what we would do in the next one-year and what we would do with the knowledge and experience gained over that one year through the remainder of our lives. This note to be placed in a sealed cover would not be read by anyone else other than ourselves and would be returned to us the next year. What a great way of inspiring ourselves to think of not only our immediate education but also of the role that we would each play in making the world a better place. It was then that he also mentioned that life would never be the same again for our classmates and us. More importantly, he said that life would be very different now that we were in the company of some of the most wonderful people in the world. The last 5 years has indeed been remarkable for many of the fine men and women whose classmate I was privileged to be. Whether it is grappling with earthquake in Haiti or the sheer struggle for survival as a media house in Pakistan or fighting corruption as the minister of education in Moldova or managing the nation’s economy as the finance minister of Kenya or ensuring power sector reforms in India & Egypt….each of these classmates have gone on to occupy positions of power and importance around the world. Many of them are in key positions within the United States and beyond in sectors as diverse as politics, foreign affairs, banking, business, academia, defense, media, real estate and my familiar world of non-profits & social development. Despite all this one thing burns fiercely within them. Their commitment and passion to make the world a better place with little or no concern to themselves and their welfare. This has been the greatest learning for me…to be amidst such people and to be a part of this larger change process. Meeting many of them again 5 years later in the recent reunion that we had at the Harvard Kennedy School brought back old memories and strengthened the conviction to be different and make a difference.
The school too seems to be caught up in the change…There are now plans to put up a new building, to raise more resources, to get more diverse faculty and to look for a new Dean later this year. All this, without losing out on the original ideal and mandate of being one of the finest schools of public policy and administration in the world. It was indeed nostalgic for me to think about how my life has changed while remaining the same too. I was an activist before I got here…I continue to be an activist now. What has not died is the fire and the conviction in me that change is not something to wait for but is something to work consciously and strategically for. And what Harvard has done is prepare my life to ask the right questions, to have the humility to accept the fact that I will not have the answers to many of these questions and more importantly to feel secure in the company of great men and women who think and act similarly. The joy and warmth that each one of us felt and shared was something that was worth traveling such a long distance for.
Much has also not changed. Harvard Square seems the same and continues to be the bustling center that it always is. Life here never seems to die and one has the usual share of people walking around, the sight of the homeless asking for support, the street vendors peddling their ware, street cafes and coffee corners, the cycle rickshaw (it is got the sophisticated name of a pedicab here at the Square), the commuters exiting from the ‘T’ (as the Metro rail here is known) and the Harvard students who seem to be carrying the burden and joy of both their studies and the impending graduation ceremony. So many memories for me as I remembered rushing to the Harvard Business School across the river for some classes and to MIT-Sloan by the ‘T’ for others. I also realized that I missed the intellectual stimulation and the high energy of this campus and the many discussions, dis-agreements and conversations that I had with so many students, classmates and faculty.
Time will surely let many things change. But one constant that I feel sure about is the camaraderie and joy that one experiences when you are with people who share your vision and dream but do not feel threatened by the path you take. It is this friendship, the ability of others to rejoice in your success and the support that one gets that will not change and will continue to be the indescribable and intangible benefit of having been here. And at this reunion i not only found that this was a place where ideas met, but people with the ideas too.