Graduate Student Address by Akash Kalra, MBA’19

There are actually more people than I thought there would be. Good morning Brandeis. How are we all doing today? To be honest, I'm nervous, really, really nervous. Nervous because I know I need to say something meaningful here, and as my friends here would know, that isn't really my forte. I mean, who doesn't remember the things that I said in orientation in front of so many people? Exactly, nobody. Think about it, behind me, sits some of the greatest minds of the United States and from around the world, and here I am, a Bollywood Global Gala dancer trying to impart some wisdom.

So, my friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your beers, and help me as I try to step outside my comfort zone. We all have come a long way. I remember when I was figuring out the schools I wanted to apply to, I knew Brandeis because the producers of the TV show “Friends” graduated from here, and I knew somewhere that the show was inspired by the people at Brandeis. That's when I thought to myself, "Akash, you are somewhat like Chandler. You would fit in well." 

Jokes apart, Brandeis has given me every single thing that I aspired to. It has made my American dream come true. More importantly, it has given me the self-confidence that I always lacked. Coming from a very small town in India, with a modest background, I never in my wildest of dreams thought I would get where I am today. I mean, and to the point, I did not even know how will I financially sustain here, but this school saw something in me, something that I did not even see in myself, and I was given a full scholarship here.

But, then somehow, but then somehow, I still undermined myself, and I thought to myself, `Maybe I just got lucky. Maybe I actually don't deserve it.’ Then came the moving to a different country part. Moving to a different country was a different ballgame altogether. While I was nervous about fitting in, in this new community, in this new environment, in this new country, my mother was worried as well. But my mother wondered how will I cook Indian food here. I mean, you can't go to Little India every day, right? 

But, this intimate community that we have at school made me feel like home in no time. From gonging the gong and being her witty self, to Viola giving us motherly advice, not even once did I feel out of place. Think about it. When your program head advisor and the Dean of Student Experience, go out of their way to come to chat with you and to know whether you're doing OK, you know that they genuinely care for you.

I knew I had found my home away from home in Brandeis. Then came the academics. While I pondered how will I manage to cope with so much academic pressure, my mother was at it again! My mother wondered whether I'm getting enough chicken tikka masala to cope with so much academic pressure.

But, but, hands down, if there is one thing that absolutely stands out at Brandeis, it is the quality of education that you get here. I literally cannot imagine how can certain courses be taught better in the outside world. The professors are incredible and so is their way of teaching. The classes are engaging and interactive. 

I honestly wasn't used to this style of learning, though. I remember the first few days, I used to go grab the corner seat in every class, literally petrified of speaking up. Even though I had so much to say, I never got the courage to actually raise my hand. So one fine day, I went up to one of my professors and I told him about my situation. What he told me after that literally changed my life. He was like, "Hey, you're so me. I used to struggle as well, but then I started talking to myself while striking a power pose." If you don't know about power poses, power poses are expansive and open stances where you take a lot of space and hold your arms and legs away from your body.

So for some of you who saw me in my power pose talking to myself right outside, I am not crazy! But jokes apart, the classes started feeling like discussions. Students would debate and the professors would navigate the way. After every class, I remember I would have this huge grin on my face because I started enjoying this way of learning. Once I developed this confidence, I started wondering whether I'm good enough for the job market here. I mean, America undeniably attracts the best talent from the entire wide world. Am I really good enough to be working in this country?

To be able to even figure that out, I knew I needed a network, and I needed a network beyond Boston. And, believe it or not, in the last two years courtesy of Brandeis, all for free guys, I got opportunities to network in Chicago, California, Dallas, New York, Washington, D.C., and even Israel. I honestly felt like an executive working in the corporate world and juggling between different places.

I mean, until a couple of years back, I never even got a chance to go outside India, and here I was going to the most magnetic places in the world, the places I only dreamt of going, networking with the best of best professionals. Dream come true? You bet. So you may ask, "How did all this networking help me?" I had three internship offers within half a year of me being here. I ended up interning with Deloitte California as a summer consultant.

Now this was huge. I was in my dream company, doing my dream job, and in Silicon Valley. I could not have imagined anything better than that. I was also offered a full-time position before I even finished my internship, and that was the turning point in my life. That was when I stopped undermining myself and got the self-confidence. I realized I was good enough. I carried forward that confidence in my second year of school and thought, "If I can get that job, I can do anything in my life."

We have this cultural festival at school. It's known as the Global Gala. I quickly signed up for the Bollywood dance in that, thinking that if I can get that job, I can at least dance, right? Let's just say, the dance did not go as well as the job thing did, but I learned something. I actually learned two things. First, the power poses do not work as well in a Bollywood dance. Second, I should never dance.

But, here's the thing, at least my mom was happy. I mean, she also laughed at me watching me dance, but at least she found comfort in the fact that there was lots of Indian food on offer there. But, see what happened there; I felt ready for anything and everything in my life. If you'd asked me only a couple of years before whether I can imagine myself standing up here in front of so many people, I would have laughed it off.

For giving me this confidence, I will be forever grateful to Brandeis. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm also thankful to the people I've met here and the friendships I've found here. Things would have been really, really hard if we didn't stand for each other. We started off as a community and we would forever be one. I'm going to miss you all. I have my family here today sitting right there figuring out whether they're serving Indian food at the commencement. My grandmother flew from India. Nanni if you can just get up.

I also want to thank them for the support that they've provided me during my time here. Now, I would like to end, and as any effective orator, I would like to end either by quoting someone or by dropping the mic. And, since I'm no Barack Obama, I would like to quote someone, and who other than my mother? As my mother always said, and she said that right before I got onto the stage by the way, "Akash, you're a good kid, but you should really know when to stop." Thank you and congratulations!