It was February of 2021. I had just joined the Zoom interview from the guest bedroom of our townhouse in Smyrna, Georgia, struggling to fight off the imposter syndrome that had lived rent-free in the back of my head since I had been invited to interview with Harvard Business School. I was overwhelmed by insecurity - thinking that my background did not measure up to what I perceived to be the "prototypical" HBS student, and that Birmingham, Auburn University, and Georgia-Pacific are not hometowns, institutions, or companies that are normally represented on the resumes of those who matriculate here.

Fast forward two years and I find myself on the Baker lawn with my diploma in hand. At the close of my two-year journey at HBS, I can confidently say that not only did I belong, but that this was the best school for me.

I'd like to think that I've been able to elevate the experience of my peers not in spite of, but as a direct result of my personal and professional background. HBS is quite intentional about designing the experience to highlight the voice of the individual to serve to the benefit of the collective, whether it be in the classroom or as part of the larger campus community. Nowhere have I felt as celebrated or heard as I have here at HBS - my background that generated the sources of self-doubt early on has actually led to my greatest contributions.

I've introduced peers to the fanaticism of SEC sports, the good-for-the-soul-not-for-the-body All-Star Special at Waffle House (with hashbrowns covered and capped obviously), and the merits of the word "y'all" as the most efficient method of addressing a group of people. I've said "this case reminds me of my time in the paper products supply chain" more times than I care to count. I've hopefully even convinced some classmates to consider the Southeast as a long-term destination post-HBS. Generally, I've strived to share my definition of "Southern Hospitality" with others, represent the South well, and potentially inspire future professional leaders to pursue the tremendous amount of opportunity there.

After graduation, and a brief stint in Birmingham, I’m heading back to Georgia after accepting a position in consulting and I couldn't be happier with the decision. To be honest, I wasn't initially considering a return to the South, at least not so quickly after school. However, when my wife and I took an objective look at the criteria we considered important - cost of living, weather, access to nature, proximity to family, professional opportunities available, presence of HBS alumni network, etc., a return became attractive. Cemented by the fact that my two years at HBS have granted me the privilege of determining where and how I can strive to be a "leader that makes a difference in the world," a return became a no-brainer. Additionally, I recognize that the South still has a significant amount of social and political progress left to make, especially given developments in recent years, and I fully plan to contribute to that progress and have my voice heard, whether as a voter or as an active corporate citizen.

I'll use this last paragraph to share a piece of unsolicited advice for aspiring applicants, whether you resonate with my narrative or not. I fundamentally believe that every single person on the planet has a unique story to tell based on personal, authentic, and lived experiences. Don't make the same mistake I almost did, don't shy away from that which makes you stand out, and most importantly, don't rule yourself out!