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"Before school started, I never would have guessed that the thing that I would end up cherishing most would be the people."

In my first MBA Journal entry, I was a rookie entering the MBA game. Now, a year in, strangers have become friends, nerves have been replaced with poise, and Berkeley has become my home. Come August, I will be on campus again, but this time as a pro, or at least that's how the Class of 2011 will see me. In the next couple of weeks, I start my internship with one of the largest investment management firms in the U.S. But before I get to work, I have time to reflect on the year that was.

My first year at Haas was also the first for Rich Lyons, our new dean. In his inaugural address, he made his intentions clear: to take Haas from the top 10 to a top five. As a beloved former Haas professor and more recently the chief learning officer for Goldman Sachs, Lyons certainly has the pedigree to steer the school in the right direction. There was definitely a buzz on campus, and the faculty and administration felt the change. As Berkeley is one of only a couple of schools that have 35 of their 36 graduate programs ranked in the top 10, its not a stretch to think Haas can jump into the top five.

I must admit I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief now that the year is over. I don't think I have ever packed so many experiences into so few months. But now with the slight change of pace, I realize there were things that I took for granted and miss—the coffees at Café Strada, going to the "Big" Cal vs. Stanford game, the squirrels on campus. Despite all those wonderful moments, it's my classmates that truly made my memories. Take Gary Coover or "Cooveroo" as an example, a guy whose sense of humor and positive attitude ensured that my day got better whenever he was around. Cooveroo epitomizes what I love about Haas students—someone you would want by your side in the boardroom as well as the dance floor. Similarly, Ty Chi (or "Chai Tea" as I like to call him) is another guy who always managed to make my day. While I won't see many of my classmates until August, Chai and I managed to find internships as investment analysts at the same firm. My memories at Haas are full of people like Gary and Ty, and I was fortunate to have seven of my classmates be there as I got down on one knee when I proposed to my girlfriend. Before school started, I never would have guessed that the thing that I would end up cherishing most would be the people; one of the unexpected gifts you get from business school are lifelong friends.

A Shoulder to Lean On

Indeed, Haas' class size means you will develop deep and meaningful relationships and not just another contact to add to your network. You'll hold classmates when they cry, listen to them when they need an ear, and lean on them when you need their shoulder. I'm sure you already have friends like that before you started school, but the friendships you gain here are special. I mention this to the 2011 class because when you start your first lesson, you may feel very much alone, away from your family, friends, and home. But by the last class of the year, I promise you this—you'll feel you are with family, true friends. You will have never felt more at home.

The only critique I have of Haas, and an issue shared by most business schools, is the balance and selection of the core curriculum. While I enjoyed many of the classes, some I felt were more relevant than others, and I would have preferred to have had the opportunity to take one or two more electives. That's the difficulty in putting together an academic program; the school wants to make sure you are equipped for all situations in the future, even the ones you can't foresee. The argument from the schools is, without the ability of foresight, how do you even know what is and isn't relevant for your future? While they are right of course, there lacks a consensus among the top schools as to what classes should be in the core, so you naturally have to question how valid certain classes are when not everyone is teaching it.

The issue of core curriculum as well as other problems faced within business school is one of the topics we discussed at the annual Graduate Business Forum, held this year in Taiwan. Almost 100 students, representing some 43 business schools from around the world, turned up in Taipei to discuss issues faced by their student body and to hear from the Vice-President of Taiwan about qualities in leadership. I learned a lot about my own leadership style, and I made a few more friends along the way.

My first year at Haas has been one of the best years of my life. From an academic standpoint, my thinking has definitely become more structured and I attack problems with more rigor and strategy than before. The experiences, tests, and knowledge I gained, and the friends I picked up along the way, will remain with me forever. I wish in a way I could stay here longer but, alas, a year from now I must return to reality. And my bank account couldn't be happier.

Take care and have a great summer.

Toby Gardner is a member of UC Berkeley's MBA Class of 2010.

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