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Justin Saia

Degree:

Diploma in Strategy and Innovation

Location:

United States

Year:

2016

By Justin Saia

The Road Well Traveled

Robert Frost’s stirring allusions about the necessity of choices and divergent pathways is emblematic of my eventual journey up the High Street to the University of Oxford. People ask me all the time if this was a good move for me. Did I make the right decision? A decision to attend Oxford is neither difficult or novel, nor does it represent some sort of enlightened individualism. The cobblestone roads and splintered oak pews of Oxford are worn smooth by centuries of scholars enchanted by her wisdom and majesty. The likes of Sir Walter Raleigh, John Locke, Adam Smith, Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Thatcher, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, and even Dr. Seuss have revised within the hallowed walls of the Bodleian and engaged in lively discourse over a pint or two at one of many unsuspecting bars tucked away. When life opens a pathway to the City of Dreaming Spires, you make haste to get there as soon as you can, for it is an enchanted place offering mystery, challenge, and personal growth to its many denizens.

I’m not so disillusioned to think that a voyage down Regent Street to the University of Cambridge or a jaunt along The Strand to the London School of Economics (LSE) wouldn’t have yielded analogous insights and opportunities, but that road was not to be traveled in this lifetime. Like the torments of unrequited love, with LSE playing the role of would-be lover and Cambridge the rejecter, the route to LSE was longer and more winding than I could stomach following completion of a nearly three-year MBA program at Syracuse University, while the road to Cambridge was obstructed by immovable and archaic admissions barriers. I’m not bitter at all. I look better in dark blue anyway.

It cannot be understated though; the last leg of this educational roller-coaster ride has been an absolute slog. It began last October on the heels of our final module in Oxford. Arriving home, I was relieved to not have to endure the agony of preparing for another grueling examination, but I found myself beset by sadness at the extended absence of my dear classmates and friends from Oxford. Early morning breakfasts at Oriel College, jogs around the deer park at Magdalen College, afternoon strolls along Christ Church Meadow, punting on the Cherwell, late night beers at The Eagle and Child and The Purple Turtle, evenings revising within the sanctified walls of the Duke Humfrey’s Library, regular breaks for tea and scones, and escapades in London would become memories frozen in time. In fact, when I left Oxford, I had no idea how much time would pass before I returned to a place I’d grown so fond of in such a short time. The back and forth travel to the United Kingdom over the last 14 months has been a welcome distraction from the chaos of life in New York City. Nevertheless, I begrudgingly joined the Oxford Union as a lifetime member at the insistence of a classmate to serve as a reminder that I always have a place to go back to.

I returned home to New York only to spend the balance of October and much of November churning away on a final assessment paper for our fourth and final module – Strategy in Action. At the same time, the combination of teaching graduate school one night a week and traveling for work 3-4 days each week nearly swamped me. By the end of November, I took a much-needed respite from my studies through the Christmas holidays. Looking back, that might not have been the most prudent decision, as it left me with just two months to write my thesis.

On the surface, that might appear to be an insurmountable task. In many ways it was, consuming every waking moment of free time in the months of January and February. Despite a compressed schedule and a hefty word count, I genuinely enjoyed the process and the learnings that emerged from this compulsory exercise. My thesis advisor, the venerable Sir Lawrence Freedman, an Emeritus Professor of War Studies from King’s College in London and Visiting Professor at Oxford, was every bit as decent and remarkable as you’d expect from someone who’s been knighted. We met up at the Blavatnik School of Government during my final module to discuss the abstract and overall approach for writing my thesis and stayed in touch throughout the process, with Professor Freedman offering insightful suggestions and feedback along the way.

The day I received confirmation my thesis had been formally received by the business school was a momentous occasion. I could feel the stress melt away like a stick of butter caught in the breath of a Hungarian Horntail. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the simple pleasures of brunch with friends, reading for amusement, and sleeping in on the weekends. As life returns to some sense of normalcy and this protracted chapter finds a conclusion, the real adventure is just beginning. My phone lights up every day from different corners of the globe, illuminating the successes of my new academic family – entrepreneurial ventures, book publishing, political candidacies, and business acquisitions. The future is bright for us all. Whatever comes next, no one can know…but, we will do it together.

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