Behind The Scenes: Memorable Traditions at Elite Business Schools

Memoirs are records of events written by a person with detailed knowledge of them. Some B-school graduates had indelible moments to recount when asked to chronicle their memoirs from their graduation days. The students recalled occasions that evoked various emotions, those that taught them life lessons, the ones that brought them where they have reached, and some memories that bound them to everlasting friendships. Most graduates agreed that they would cherish these memories for a lifetime.

The occasions the students recollected ranged from college traditions, annual events, cultural fests, and games.

TALK, a weekly affair at Stanford GSB, lets students share their experiences in intimate and supportive settings. Two students present a thirty-minute capsule to an audience of over one hundred and fifty. Most accounts are awe-inspiring and only deepen community bonding among the students. 

Berkeley Haas hosts’ HaasBoats’, a three-day event that the school hosts in the fall semester. Students mingle among themselves on Lake Shasta in boats. They spent Labor Day weekend living on houseboats with their assigned crews, attending Burning Man-themed parties, and getting to know their classmates by boat-hopping on floating islands of giant floaties. Students enjoy group meals while listening to curated playlists created by classmates. A “boat captain” volunteers to navigate, stake the houseboats to the shore, and oversee the safety of the occupants of their respective boats. 

Haas follows a monthly tradition-Story Salon, where two students recount their experiences to classmates. A lottery selects students, pairing them with trained student coaches to speak during the Story Salon. The coaches help the students with finetuning their speeches into impressive stories for the audience. The stories are poignant and range from vulnerable to light-hearted and funny. 

The orientation at Cornell University is a retreat that lasts a day at Owasco Lake. It comprises various fun events that aid the students and the faculty in bonding.

The University of Maryland (Smith) holds an International Night where the university’s students from across the globe show up in their traditional costumes and showcase their cultures through music, dance, and other variety of entertainment.

The Random Walk at the University of Chicago (Booth) is a trip students take before school begins. The school uses students’ data and preferences to segregate them into teams. Team selection is essentially random. Nevertheless, most students get assigned to like-minded people with shared tastes.

The pandemic has curtailed most activities at Cambridge Judge. The novel coronavirus deprived Cambridge students of intercollegiate visits, debates, sports, and more. However, Aaron D’souza fondly recalls a socially distant formal, three-course candlelit dinner at Darwin College in the last week of December. 

Students at Dartmouth College view small group dinners fondly. The affair consists of five people cooking and sharing a home-cooked meal. The gathering evokes deep interactions that surpass classroom experiences. The dinner mirrors the deeply collaborative Tuck culture.

IMD Business School students jump into the freezing Lake Leman in the ‘Polar Jump.’ The event scares many first years, but the daredeviltry and enterprise the jump provides lets students loosen from the rigours of the classroom.

The Darden Cup is the year-long athletic tournament between the first-year terms at the University of Virginia (Darden). The cup includes competitions like American football, cricket, and a talent show. Classmates familiarize themselves with each other while participating in the events.

Students gather at the University of Toronto (Rotman) at a nearby pub after their last exam and revel till evening. The pub-gathering event after intense exam prep leaves the students feeling cathartical and ecstatic.

Every Friday at 5 PM, students, faculty, alumni, and others at Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) gather for food and drinks. The gathering helps everyone let their hair down and relax.

The Kelley Clap at Indiana University (Kelley) is when everyone claps after every class. The applause elicits a sense of pride among the students. 

The Culture Quest at Wharton School involves exploring different cultures with fellow students in groups of five. Teddy Shih speaks ardently of his five-day journey with fifty students to Oman. He had experienced volunteering at a school, swimming through wadis, sleeping under the stars with Bedouins, and praying at the Grand Mosque. The quest whets the students’ appetites for wholesome encounters in a global context.

The Imperial Innovation Challenge (IIC) and Entrepreneurial Journey (EJ) engage students in novel and intent technologies that Imperial College students have developed and introduced to application structures and canvases. Students working in teams leverage the know-how to cultivate pioneering designs and test the viability and economic feasibility methods.

The Entrepreneurial Journey equips students with the skills and confidence needed for startups. The activity stimulates the students to think on their feet and construct innovative blueprints. It provides opportunities for research and in-depth business ideas.

CBS Matters at Columbia Business School is a tradition where students give presentations to their classmates on what matters most to them. Students share their life stories and intimate details about their families and relationships. The expressions allow everyone to take a breather and bond with their batchmates.

Different companies host informal networking events for the MBA tailgate at the University of Texas (McCombs). With Tailgate, students bond with each other and their alumni. Football culture is ever-present at the university. However, the pandemic has forced the university to pause the game.

UCLA (Anderson) had to repeal core traditions owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the students and staff kept the community bonding intact despite the adversities. The ASA (a student council at UCLA) had initiated activities that caught on well with the students. AnderStory is a monthly zoom activity where students take turns scripting their personal stories.

Penn State (Smeal) organizes Company-Sponsored Tailgates. The school conducts tailgate spots in specific areas for companies during home football games. The MBAA, a student government organization, works with interested organizations to sponsor Smeal MBAs’ Tailgate. The company sponsors the supplies and the spot and sends representatives, a mix of recruiters and Smeal MBA Alumni. The unique Smeal program is the culture of Penn State Football. The event allows students to acquaint themselves with companies and their employees.

The Internship Fund (IF) at Yale SOM is a first-year students’ mission. The students gather funds to finance students looking to intern for nonprofits during the summer. The IF committee organizes several events. They include a bake-off, a Star Search talent show, and Valentine’s Day Cupid Gram service. The event concludes with a live auction for students and professors to donate prizes.

The Monroe Street Cup-The Business School versus Law School hockey game is an annual event at the University of Michigan (Ross). Both faculty and students from both schools participate fervently in the game at the historical Yost Ice Arena. The event contributed to Ross students bonding among themselves.

The Multi-Cultural Club at Michigan State (Broad) organizes the Diwali (Festival of Lights) Celebration. People from different cultures and backgrounds participate in traditional Indian attire. Students revel in song and dance to Bollywood music.

Another place that organizes Diwali Night is the University of Maryland (Smith). The event kicks off in the fall with dance and music. Everyone enjoys the festival in traditional wear. The university celebrated the festival virtually last year.

Northwestern University (Kellogg) selects fifty to sixty students every year for Kellogg’s legendary Super Bowl Ad Review. Two Kellogg marketing professors — Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker — led the event. Students grade the advertisements in real-time using Kellogg’s ADPLAN framework. The activity is an excellent opportunity for students from the marketing stream to learn and apply real-life examples.

Stern Speaks at New York University (Stern) lets students share their experiences, while Stern Social is a weekly affair where students narrate their personal stories in a lecture hall filled with classmates. Stern Social culminates in an evening of fun and socializing. The two activities help students bond in deep and healthy relationships.

To neutralize the harsh winters in Chicago, the University of Chicago (Booth) hosts the Annual Magnificent Mile Watch Party. It is a nightly parade down Michigan Avenue, across the Chicago River, followed by a parade down the Wacker. Students witness an array of floats amid fireworks.

The school allows its students to bring their partners, children, parents, or other family or friends to their annual Christmas holiday party. The treats include a Santa Claus, children’s activities, and a staged photo area where you can click holiday card pictures on a sledge. The event signifies to students how their lives and their families are interlinked.

MIT (Sloan) hosts an annual Charity Auction. Cohorts of students send representatives who offer valuable items for the auction, ranging from a poker or cooking class, a lunch with a famous professor, freshly made cookies, or an opportunity to have a classmate dress up in a costume of their choice. One student had offered a “pierogi party” complete with a pierogi-making lesson, vodka tasting, and traditional Russian dancing. The event opens opportunities for students to share their cultures while helping their cohorts raise funds for Cradles to Crayons. This organization provides essential items for children in low-income situations.

TAPS at the Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin, is a weekly social gathering of students. Graduates unwind and mingle informally. The tradition has continued during lockdowns. The practice demonstrates the University of Wisconsin’s community bonding. 

Voices is a non-formal club at Yale SOM. Two speakers from the student body share matters close to their hearts in a weekly event. The experience is somewhat cathartic. Besides, students, faculty, and staff also partake in Voices periodically, displaying the strength of the SOM community.

Dartmouth College (Tuck) hosts Tripod Hockey. Students participating in the game feel inspired as they score goals. The event leaves the participants feeling elated as they compete while they fall, get hurt, or laugh out loud.

Cornell University (Johnson) conducts the Lunar New Year Celebration annually. The current year celebrated the Year of the Ox virtually owing to the pandemic. Nevertheless, students confessed to enjoying the event thoroughly. All the students, faculty, and staff turn up in suitable attire. The evening goes fervent with song and dance. The event promotes cultural diversity.

Students at the University of Virginia (Darden) enjoy their first coffee sessions. First Coffee is a thirty-five-minute recess between lectures involving students, staff, and faculty in a common area. Everyone mingles during the break. They may discuss severe cases or chat about weekend and holiday plans.

A favourite among students at the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) is the Karaoke competition. Students in cohorts rehearse for months to present two songs in the competition. Each legacy offers a student performing a choreographed dance for each piece. The pandemic stalled last year’s event, but students hope to see it happen in the coming years.

What do graduates remember fondly?

All MBA graduates have collected some memorable moments during their graduation years. Every school has been organizing events for students to revel in happy memories. Unfortunately, the lockdown and the pandemic protocols have held back some of the activities. However, most schools have done their bit in organizing virtual events, assuring their students do not miss out on the celebrations.

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