“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In the sixth grade I wrote, "If I had a million dollars I would buy a new wardrobe. I would get some Kalvin Klines and new sandles. I would wear all these things in Hawaii. I would stay at the most expensive hotel there is. I would get there in my jet plane. And I would go back on a cruise." Taped onto the bottom, as if my parents insisted I give some of the money away, was "And I would give $100 each to a nursing home and an orphanage." Friends read these statements with disbelief and laughter; I intend to continue to invoke laughter that I once wrote those words. My work in affordable housing and community development is driven by my desire to foster dignity in all people, regardless of whether their talents are rewarded in the marketplace. I plan to create fabulous places and spaces where strong, healthy families, diverse neighbors, and innovative ideas can coexist to form vibrant, safe communities. I'll practice what I preach by treating my family with respect while encouraging that we remain open to new ideas. Discussions with those who view the world differently is where real growth occurs and surprising solutions come to light. I look forward to helping that light shine on everyone, brown or white, rich or poor, healthy or sick, lucky or not. And I promise to never tell my kids not to splash me in the pool so they won't mess up my hair.

April 2006: Reflections on my essay from 2002

It is exciting to return to this statement, written from my tiny apartment at Peabody Terrace four years ago, and see my plans coming true. Out of school, I immersed myself in community development lending, investing $20 million in affordable housing and community facilities throughout the Bay Area. Working exclusively on the financing side didn't quite feed my soul, but the experience prepared me well for my next step.

Creating fabulous places where diverse neighbors can coexist is the foundation of the work I'm now doing. Six months ago, I started a nonprofit that is bringing together real estate financing tools and design options in new ways to provide cutting-edge housing solutions for people with special needs. Our first project is to create permanent, community-integrated housing for 300 people with developmental disabilities being transitioned out of a century-old institution slated for closure in 2008. This aging facility seems far removed from Silicon Valley's wealth and advanced technologies; this juxtaposition is brought into sharp focus by the presence of Cisco Headquarters across the street.

Looking back on my words "healthy or sick," I think about these distinctions a bit differently now. We are all healthy and sick - it depends on the context. In the work I'm doing now, whether an individual is healthy or sick depends heavily on whether they live in a setting with the right supports. Just like all of us.

I've recently married Tony Deifell (HBS 2002) who is full of new ideas each and every day, and who I know will keep me young at heart for years to come.

— Mardie Oakes