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Justin Saia

Degree:

Diploma in Strategy and Innovation

Location:

United States

Industry:

Cyber Security

Year:

2016

By Justin Saia

Oxonian Poetic Justice  

 

As I sail down the tracks aboard the Great Western Railway destined for London’s Paddington Station and platform 9 3/4, a Swiss colleague regales me with the latest entry from his soon to be published collection of poems; the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and introspection. Lost in the vivid imagery of his words, a stream of consciousness begins to pour out and is emblematic of my past week in the “City of Dreaming Spires.”

Arrival to Oxford is surreal. As the train shudders to a halt, J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry leaps off the big screen and into real life. With its cathedral spires, winding cobblestone streets, medieval traditions, character rich pubs and rival colleges, Oxford is effervescent. The whole place is encapsulated by an indescribable radiance, magic, and mystery that amplifies an already mythical legacy.

With a freshly minted MBA in hand from an esteemed American university, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’m here. But, there we were – a diverse cohort brimming with nearly 70 overachievers, comprised of magnanimous CEOs, astute philosophers, judicious academics, poets, humanitarians, and technologists spanning 32 nationalities and 22 different countries, with nearly two-thirds holding advanced degrees in business, law, and medicine. And, while it would be natural in this moment to feel a sense of inadequacy, another feeling washed over me and set me at ease – one of pride, honor, and humility. For a young man from simple beginnings in Alabama, it’s remarkable to fully recognize all that is truly possible in life with a little bit of grit and determination.

We were poised to follow the same path to enlightenment as some of the world’s greatest minds – 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. Some of us were seeking to silence life’s doubters, while others chased redemption or validation. No matter the ambition, we each shared a personal commitment to continuous learning and a desire to be part of the distinguished tradition of excellence at Oxford.

As we descended on the illustrious Saïd Business School to embark on this joyous academic voyage, the room bubbled over with energy and inexplicable anticipation of the road ahead, as students shared reflections of courage and conviction and tales of triumph and tribulation. Daily lectures were fast-paced and quick witted, filled with stimulating debates and hearty discussions including an exploration of competitive strategy with K’NEX children’s construction toys. For what it’s worth, having the instruction manual does not constitute a successful and winning strategy. And, as can be expected, English tea and crumpets and brown ale were common fixtures under a backdrop of the British monarchy.

During my time at Oxford, I quickly realized that things are done so differently here. I’m beginning to find clarity on the phrase “It’s an Oxford thing.” I am bewildered by the prominence of many archaic customs, from the formal academic dress attire, known as subfusc, required to sit for examinations to the 70% marks necessary to be awarded a coveted academic distinction. Locke himself likely never saw a grade north of 80%. How’s that for humility?

Examinations are written and marked by a venerable committee of examiners, rather than the instructor in an effort to preserve integrity and avoid any perception of impartiality. The entire marking process can take up to three months to complete. Admittedly, I’m anxious about the whole examination process, but equally excited about taking part in this revered tradition.

Outside of the classroom, we were treated to a wide array of cultural activities, including a tour of the Oxford Union, formal hall at Exeter College, a networking reception at Oriel College, and a lecture on the emergence of Indian contemporary art at the Ashmolean Museum. The Oxford Union is unassuming from the outside, but once you step inside those hallowed halls, you are transported to a time where leading and transformative figures from the world of sport, politics, music, science, film and theatre, art, and journalism debated the key issues of the day – Kissinger, Malcolm X, Kennedy, Einstein, Albright, Churchill, Nixon, Regan, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama to name a few.

Upon my return to the United States, the magnitude of this opportunity finally began to sink in, as my phone lit up through the night with text messages from my new global family.

And, while it seems like I may not get much rest moving forward, I’m honored to be able to study at a world-class institution alongside a group of world-class people.

justin saia blog post 1 photo

Oxford Union

Justin Saia dinner photo

Exeter College

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