Each year we ask our classmates a straightforward, simple question taken from the last lines of a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Mary Oliver. We share with you intimate and candid responses to this question, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself
out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out
of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and
forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her
enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and
thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open,
and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down
in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how
to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Class of 2008
I want to live THIS day. I have a lucky past. I grew up watching my father canalizing the gross of his paychecks towards college tuition, English classes, and volleyball traveling expenses for me and my brother.
You have to be "luchadores" (fighters) to make things happen in life. Success does not come easy, and you have to fight to earn it.
I think of Grass Hoppers,
Swans and Black Bears
Of Blessings, and many Summer Days.
When it comes to the legacy I hope to leave, I have some tough acts to follow. My grandparents escaped death in Nazi concentration camps to provide a safer environment to raise their children.
Before arriving at HBS, I was well-trained at crafting a resumé. One page of pretty font boasted fancy themes like "entrepreneurial passion" and "social impact."
I remember standing in my crib and watching my mother sing Aretha Franklin's "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."
On the last day of class, a professor left our section with the following words: "Unpack your bags."
When I was a child, my parents taught me 1960's folk songs instead of lullabies. While most kids were learning "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," I sang "Blowin' in the Wind" and "If I Had a Hammer."
When I was little I wanted to be a comedian. I thought there was something magical in being able to make others laugh.
During my first year at West Point, one of the many things required of a Plebe was to memorize "The Days."
I want to teach soccer to everyone in the world.
For many, soccer is just a game. For me, it is beyond that.
Soccer is universal.
When I was growing up, my Dad could not drive me to sports practice like the other fathers in my neighborhood. He could not pick me up in his arms, and he could not walk.
At the age of ten, I learned to sit very still on the edge of a chair with my two feet firmly planted on the floor.
I am what I eat. I am what I feed. I will nourish the world against people's hunger, planet's thirst, and profit's desire. I will write my own definition of success and fold it into a home-baked fortune cookie.
I am not graceful or coordinated, but dancing allows my soul to transcend. To dance is to rise above obstacles and stretch beyond my reality. To dream. To take risks. To seek change.
My history is built on the American Dream. My maternal great-great-grandparents emigrated from Germany determined to build a thriving farm in the Midwest. Hard work enabled them to live the American Dream.
I remember the words that graced the entrance to the Operating Room in my grandfather's nursing home in Calcutta:
"I expect to pass through this world but once...
any kindness that I can show...
let me do it now...
for I shall not pass this way again."
When I was ten, I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought I'd be able to reach out and touch the stars. Today, my ambitions are humbler.
I by no means had a typical, average life, and yet I still hesitate to be different. Even the slightest deviation from average discomforted me.
My friend Iminza is a thirty-six year old single mom living with HIV. She received a paycheck for the first time in her life six months ago by making papyrus notebooks for our handicraft business in Kenya.
Audacious. Is there more beautiful a word? I fell in love with it when we first met. I, a gangly, bookish 7 year-old and it, a misunderstood jumble of letters with polarizing meanings.
In 1995, just one year after South Africa's first democratic elections, I enrolled as an engineering student at a previously white-only university.
Who knows where my career will take me? I only know it will begin in marketing, keep me passionate, and encompass creativity. And that I am not willing to sacrifice family time to go the distance.
Looking out of the first floor balcony of my home in Chennai, I would notice laborers; rickshaw drivers and maids lovingly dropping their kids off at school. I could see their eyes sparkle with dreams and hopes for their children.
I often think of Zusya, an early Hassidic rabbi. When Reb Zusya didn't have long on this earth, his students found him crying.
There are no real tomorrows, no plans, no potential leads. All I have are moments, just fleeting spots of time. Choice is mine to use them, to love, to act, to heal.
It took a while for me to realize that I don't just want to feel accomplished. I want to feel alive. The images on my resumé are not the only ones in my dreams, and there is no reason to pretend they should be.
Sitting in my grandfather's garden as a child, surrounded by fig trees and tomato vines, I was in a state of wonder. In these moments, my world was in balance.
Can you really plan your life?
Did you know when you would be born?
Do you know when you will take your last breath?
The best-laid plans often go awry.
Code Blue, room 701! I jump to my feet and run. Racing to save a life, a life that I don't know. The adrenaline is rushing. Yelling "Charging... clear!"