I’m still learning how meaningful the relationships with my Fuqua classmates are to me.

To be fair, I’m one of the older members of my class. At 33, I’ve probably loathed the long hours more than most. And to be honest, I can be grumpy at times. Thankfully, I can lean on my military experience to help my teammates and me through those periods of sleep deprivation and anxiety from academics that we all face in a top MBA program—without being too deeply challenged by the stress.

Despite the pressure that surrounds us, I have been profoundly affected by my classmates and I want to tell you a bit about what I’ve learned so far.

Anyone reading these blogs doubtlessly knows that Fuqua is all about team culture. Should you be unaware of that, you must have been brought to this blog post by some errant Google search. In that case, feel free to head over to this entry on the principles of “Team Fuqua” to learn more. If you did already know that, then let me share an example of how the Team Fuqua spirit ensures that we are all valued as members of the community.

This story begins by saying that institutional portraits are never good enough for everyone—for that matter, sometimes they aren’t good for anyone. Some of my classmates fell into the less than satisfied category after we had our class pictures taken at the beginning of the program.

Getting started with taking the photos of my Fuqua classmates
Getting started with the photos

Now, I had been a commercial photographer for a while after I left the military. I had served commercial clients such as the University of North Carolina’s career services department, and I thought I would be able to do something to help. The problem was simply that I couldn’t find the time to take photos in the midst of academics, recruiting, and professional club activities. Nonetheless, Facebook posts from classmates told me that there was a need for better headshots—a need that at times that seemed to border on desperate.

That’s where my teammates come in. First, there was Michelle Jiang. She got in touch with me after I had mentioned that I’d be willing to do it. She told me, “I need a headshot! But, how can I help you do this for our classmates?”

She proceeded to set up a classroom, arranged a signup process, and coordinated the entire event to ensure that we were able to support everyone who was interested. She didn’t think twice about sacrificing her time—she just executed like a great teammate.

Then during the photo shoot, every one of my classmates stopped by to ask what we needed: lunch, something to drink, a snack, anything. Some classmates were bringing in changes of business clothes for peers to use, others were helping to give feedback and encouragement. What started as a small effort quickly became a community endeavor with everyone supporting one another.

The remarkable thing I noticed is that when the photo shoot was finished, everyone stayed. They stayed to help complete the job and refused to let me bear the burden of packing up and cleaning alone. They stayed because that’s what teammates do. They stayed because we all support each other’s ambitions. This mentality is ingrained in the Fuqua community.

A classroom turned into a photo studio to take photos of my Fuqua classmates
A classroom turned into a photo studio

And that would be a great story, if it simply ended there. What I had set about to do for a few classmates instead turned into an incredible community experience. The next day at school, students were sharing stories about the photoshoot and asking what they could do to help me make it happen in the future. The Association of Women in Business (AWIB) reached out to ask what they could do. The Dean of the Daytime MBA program, Russ Morgan, stopped me in the hall to voice support and chat about the good things he had heard about the effort.

I was blown away—but I shouldn’t have been because this is Fuqua. This is the community I bought into, it’s the community I’m glad I invested in. But most of all, I’m proud to know that even though I didn’t come from a business background, everyone treats me as a valuable member of the team. The end of this story came a few days later, at Fuqua Friday. Those who signed up for the photo shoot had all secretly coordinated to stage a special “thank you.”

You don’t necessarily realize how much your classmates mean to you until you’re confronted with the reality that you’d do pretty much anything to support them, and they would do anything to support you. That’s why I chose to pursue my MBA at Fuqua.