As Columbia Business School’s Class of 2020 graduates gear up for commencement, they are faced with a very different type of graduation ceremony. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Business School students to stay home, trading in celebratory year-end activities and events for virtual classes and a remote graduation. Though this ending might not be what many 2020 grads envisioned, this year’s graduating class is making every effort to celebrate their accomplshment from afar. Abhinav Agarwal ’20 spoke with us about staying connected to his class virtually, his graduation celebration plans, and what’s next as he joins Capital One in McLean, VA, as a Product Manager.
What are you doing to stay productive and focused?
To sustain a level of normalcy in my daily and weekly schedules, I am working on quite a few initiatives. Recently, I joined a New York City-based startup, White Fox Scooters, as an MBA Business Development Intern. White Fox is the nation’s first docked e-scooter solution for walkable cities and I am helping them develop partnerships that will help grow their presence in the Tri-State area. Our goal is to give people a safe, socially distant, friendly way of traveling through the city as we all seek to adapt to the new normal.
Likewise, I continue leading initiatives as Co-VP of Community for CBS’s Student Government Executive Board (ExBo) to build and strengthen our sense of community, something we need more than ever as we practice safe social distancing. With the help and support of a fabulous board, we hosted our first ever School-Wide Virtual CBS Matters series and invited both professors and students to share their incredible stories and what truly matters to them with the broader CBS community. In fact, I am extremely grateful to our speakers for bravely pioneering this new medium despite the uncharted speaker-audience interaction experience. I am also proud that we launched CBS Impact Week, a collection of initiatives that gave people opportunities to make a positive impact by giving back to the medical workers, volunteers, and everyday heroes who are fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the week, we recognized several CBSers who went above and beyond in leveraging these opportunities to create that tangible impact.
Apart from that, I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on my health, to be able to move back home to Maryland, and spend more time with family. Thanks to a pair of Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, I was able to set up my own little home gym that helps me stay active. My family and I continue to tackle a 400-hour-long and still growing list of movies and shows and experiment with new recipes (i.e. homemade pasta and udon chicken noodles in miso broth).
What have you learned through this experience?
How much we take for granted. Whether it was our ability to visit our favorite restaurants or bars, or feeling safe when stepping outside, the pandemic has not only made us reevaluate the world around us, but has also made us grateful for what we do have to fall back on. In that reevaluation, I also begun reconsidering what it is that we really need to achieve the goals we have.
Many of us share a goal to strengthen relationships with the friends we have made in the past two years and celebrate a final hurrah! And while I would give almost anything to do that in person, it has not and will not hamper our spirit and perseverance to continue working on that goal through innovative virtual means.
What has been your favorite thing about being a student at CBS?
It’s difficult to pick just one. The MBA program has been a continuous stream of unbelievable experiences, many of them being my “first time ever.” In fact, so much happened that it almost seems like a blur. To wrap my head around it and really take stock of it all, last weekend I went through my Instagram stories archive and took a nostalgic walk down a two-year memory lane.
I can pick a favorite CBS trip: Israel – it truly encapsulated the CBS experience! Like CBS, it was jam-packed with first-time experiences – swimming in the Dead Sea, hiking up Masada, celebrating Purim, exploring Jerusalem, feasting in a Bedouin tent, and of course, strengthening amazing friendships.
What is the most valuable lesson you learned?
Building and sustaining relationships is the cornerstone to success. How one communicates, and thereby projects themselves, is essential to that. As Professor Natasha Velikoselskiy recently summarized in her send-off lecture to the Class of 2020 – 93 percent of communication is all about how one looks and sounds vs. 7 percent is about what one actually says.
How will you be celebrating commencement?
Due to the efforts of fellow Student Government members, I am looking at a graduation week packed with events, including send-off talks from respected professors, special CBS Matters presentations from fellow CBSers, and reflecting with my cluster (Go Dragons!) and learning teammates. Also, I am looking forward to reminiscing on my favorite memories at Cluster Matters and performing a quick cover at Open Mic Night. On Sunday, May 17, I am looking forward to celebrating graduation with my cluster and taking graduation photos with family.
What’s next for you?
Post-MBA, I am excited to be joining Capital One in McLean, VA, as a Product Manager under the US Cards umbrella. Given the current state of affairs, I will be onboarding virtually and hopefully joining in-person later this year.