Cher-ing Memories of Year One of Business School

I have a confession. This article is late. And not like it was due at noon and you turned it in that afternoon. The deadline for my BusinessWeek journal entry was more than a month ago. I have used every excuse in the book: "I have an Entertainment Strategy project due"; "final exams"; "I'm recovering from finals"; "I need to reconnect with my life pre-business school so my friends and family remember I exist"; "I need to meticulously research Vegas deals to see Cher in concert, again." The truth is I have had a much harder time arriving at a First-Year Overview than I anticipated. Most of the other entries came together rather fluidly but this one has stumped me.

Understanding People The first subject to tackle is people. I came into business school thinking I had stellar people skills; I could talk to anyone about just about anything. Having grown up in Lima, New York City, and Miami, I had come across a multicultural landscape that had given me the necessary tools to put anyone at ease and break through the superficial weather talk. Well, I was quickly shown that any experience has its limitations.

The distinction has nothing to do with race, or creed, or gender, or any of the standard ways in which society tries to define "diversity." There were many more subtle nuances, psychographic perhaps, that I had never anticipated would give me trouble relating to others. I was confronted by brilliant people who professed outright disdain for reading books or newspapers; otherwise respectful, tolerant individuals who used "gay" as a misguided adjective (as in "That test was gay"); individuals who are able to make friends with everyone within a two-row radius of themselves on a cross-country flight. I am in no way trying to sound negative. My experience in the competitive cultural cook-off in New York City, while diverse, had been limiting in other ways. In the city, admitting to not having read the latest Pulitzer winner was unheard of (you either pretended you had read it or changed the subject quickly), talking to strangers on any form of transportation was enough to get you committed, and using "gay" in that context would quickly get you fired or beat up.

But school forces you to interact and learn from others you might not have ever imagined getting to know. These kinds of challenges work to help you see the value in people and not be clouded by any unconscious prejudice, all of which are assets for an aspiring manager.

Remember Our Classes At one of the first addresses from the dean at orientation, he implored us to remember our classes. At the time it sounded absurd that we could forget about classes, but now it sounds like a premonition. It's a cliché written about here many times, but the options offered you at business school really exhaust every second of your time. It is easy, especially when you have as focused a career interest as I do, to value your education in that subject—in my case, media—and neglect your education in your core classes. The value of statistics or operations tends to pale in comparison to the Hulu or DreamWorks deals you will be asked about in interviews. Ironically, it is the internship that reminds you that while the interview consisted of finding out your knowledge and interest in the industry, the actual job will require that you apply all those pesky skills learned in statistics and operations.

My revelation here is to trust the system; don't focus on those classes you think are pertinent. The best example was what we can call the Irony of HROB (Human Resources & Organizational Behavior). The irony became that the students who most derided the class were the same people who needed its teachings the most. I saw how my former supervisor at Random House had applied many of the lessons taught in HROB and how it had made her employees and the company as a whole radically more efficient. My advice to future first-year students is to throw yourself into every class. Don't try to pick and choose because it will all be pertinent.

I also know this because of what I face at my internship at the Walt Disney Co. (DIS), a temporary dream come true. I am a summer associate in the finance department of Motion Picture Distribution & Marketing. While this sounded to me far from anything related to operations and statistics, it is not. A company like Disney, with its interests in so many divisions, needs and values well-rounded individuals who can contribute anywhere. The key to turning that internship into a job offer is showing your diverse skill set.

The Lessons Looking back over last year, I hope to bring in the above "lessons" and apply them to my second year. While tailoring my program toward media management, I will take courses that are outside this realm. In the fall, I am taking Entertainment Law and Media 2015 to delve deeper into the industry. The first course explores the legal details specific to entertainment, and the second course outlines how technology is changing media and what 2015 may look like. As a third course, I will throw in Financial Statement Analysis to reinforce the financial skills. I have no plans to spend too much of my future career analyzing financial statements, but the skills learned there will reinforce anything I do in the future.

On top of classes, there will now be 360 new faces on campus to watch go through the transformative process of the first year. They provide another great opportunity to be challenged by people and to build on my learning. I hope I can make the first year for them as wonderful an experience as it was for me.

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