Growing up as a Black male from South Los Angeles, I was raised in a vibrant community surrounded by a diverse group of individuals who gave me guidance and taught me core values –such as curiosity, community, and persistence. My childhood experiences and the values that were instilled in me from being brought up in South LA are the foundation of my being, and I am proud to call South Central home. Yet, it was not often that I interacted with entrepreneurs or individuals who climbed up the ranks in the corporate world. Advanced degree holders were not always visible, and I thought that admission to a school like Harvard was a pursuit far above my head, something I had seen on television but not so much in my neighborhood.

I have always envisioned myself as a leader in the business world, with hopes of not just leading an organization, but using my talents to have a positive impact on society at large. I pursued my undergraduate degree at a small liberal arts college, Ohio Wesleyan University, where I double majored in Economics and Politics & Government. Ohio Wesleyan was a great college fit for me. I received enormous support from professors, and I was fortunate to hold top leadership positions on campus. I have a non-traditional background for an MBA, and my intellectual curiosity led me to search for opportunities and seek mentors who gave me educational and professional advice.

After doing research on top MBA programs and on-campus events, I learned about the Africa Business Conference at HBS and found it to be an event worth attending. I attended the conference during the spring of my junior year, where I learned about the Harvard MBA program and a week-long residential summer program for rising college seniors called the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP). I applied and attended SVMP and found the week to be one of the most informative and transformational weeks of my life.

During SVMP, we were placed in sections where we studied three cases a day and prepared for class in the morning as if we were full-time MBA students. I was surrounded by a dynamic group of individuals who challenged my viewpoints and told me about their experiences. Everyone I associated with was friendly, the environment at HBS was welcoming, and the curriculum was rigorous and exhilarating. I found this experience to be humbling because most of the time I was not able to determine the right answer by myself, and I experienced the importance of collaboration when it comes to solving complex and critical business decisions. There is a saying, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” This was my biggest takeaway from SVMP and the case method. More importantly, I ended my week during SVMP feeling as if HBS is a place where I can see myself succeeding, which is why I applied to the 2+2 Program (the deferred admissions process for college seniors or those in their final year of graduate school).

Once I received my admission to the Harvard MBA program, I felt a sense of relief and spent the day thinking “mission accomplished.” However, the mission is just beginning. Coming from a non-traditional background, there was a sense of hesitation and I questioned if I would fit in. Participation in SVMP gave me added validation, but I also came to the realization that at HBS there is no such thing as “fitting in.” Every student has a unique background and brings a different perspective to the classroom. What I found to be appealing is that at HBS there is no single background that makes you an ideal candidate for the MBA program. While my background may not be traditional, I am not out of place.

Being your true self is being your best self and that is how I navigated the application process and how I will continue to navigate at HBS and beyond. I am grateful to one day use my Harvard MBA as a tool to affect positive change in the global community. Meanwhile, I am spending my deferred period in the Silicon Valley at VMware where I am focused on improving and scaling their SaaS & Subscription business. I am excited for the Harvard MBA program and I look forward to the experience, the people, and the endeavors that follow.