Finding a Home at Wharton

Let’s name drop. When I went to Harvard, I was surrounded by the one percent of the one percent: Blankfeins, Wassersteins, Kushners­­—even one guy who was famous for being on a crappy reality TV show. But as an 18-year-old aspiring journalist who didn’t know what Investment Banking was—let alone who ran Goldman Sachs—I formed lifelong friendships with people based on interests, rather than strategic networking.

When I got into Wharton, however, I told myself that I would make friends differently. At 28, disillusioned by the publishing world and having seen firsthand the power of knowing the Right People, I planned to be more calculated with my relationships. I wanted contacts, not confidants.

That intention lasted for maybe five minutes. Because, let’s face it. I’m not cool. I’m awful at fooling people. And, it’s terribly lonely.

In part, this discomfort was self-made. I thought that I needed to fit this “Business School Persona”: traveling every weekend, raging every night, and still landing that amazing job without breaking a sweat—or gaining weight. Someone who is effortlessly cool. But we already established that I’m anything but, and it was exhausting pretending to have the Time of My Life at 2am at Drinkers for the umpteenth time.

I confused maintaining personal brand with creating it. I hoped that I could fake it ‘til I made it, but I knew that Business School Emily was a fraud. And deep down I suspected that everyone else knew, too.

We’ve perpetuated the illusion that Wharton is a ‘homogenous rainbow’ —that everyone is fundamentally on the same page, differing only in appearance. Exhibit A: Welcome Committee. Yet, while selling a consistent image of Wharton to admits is smart, we don’t need to keep marketing ourselves to our classmates once here. As one of the editors of The Wharton Journal, I see this type of self-censoring all the time. So many people don’t want to write for the paper out of fear of the article byline. As if holding a belief that is contrary to popular opinion is shameful.

Instead of blending in at business school, let’s celebrate our differences. It might be just what we need to find our fit at Wharton.

This can seem like a paradox: to feel belonging, celebrate diversity. But it also makes total sense. We need to be comfortable with how we are different before we can feel comfortable with how we fit in. Perhaps you still play Dungeons and Dragons. Perhaps you are a Republican—or a Democrat. Perhaps you’ve never been kissed—or have been sleeping around more than you’d like. Maybe you don’t live up to your own expectations or suspect that you’re an awful person. That’s okay. There’s beauty in the mess.

By emphasizing our individuality, even if it’s a broken one—scratch that, especially if it’s a broken one—I think we can make Wharton a more accepting place. One that feels like home. After all, a home, as opposed to a house, is a people, not a place.

We first need to accept ourselves before we can truly feel right with ourselves and with each other. Like we belong here, together.

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