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Keith KostrzewskiAs I reflect upon the past two years at Kellogg, I can’t forget the moment when this journey began. It was July 11, 2012, when my life changed. It was my birthday, and I was spending a long weekend back in Manhattan. I had just finished a run in Central Park. The afternoon sun had shifted far enough over the west side skyline to bring a beautiful set of shadows onto the south end of the great lawn. It was a perfect New York moment.

As it had so many times before, Central Park had pulled me into a place of deep thought, providing a slice of serenity within the epicenter of the world – a place that, depending on the day, can make you feel like the smallest of fish or fill you with the greatest confidence and passionate optimism.

As I sat there asking, “What’s next?” for me, the gentle buzz from my phone grabbed my attention. I glanced at the notification and saw the email titled “News on EMBA Admissions” from Kellogg… I think my heart sank and spiked at the same time. I opened it. I was in. On this day in Central Park, I felt unstoppable.

The combination of excitement, fear, anxiety, anticipation and achievement that I felt that day stays with me today, even as we prepare to move on. I say that because this ride has given me so much more than I could have ever imagined and it is only just the beginning of my charge to Think Bravely and do great things.

From the opening moments of orientation, I knew this was going to be something special. The authenticity on each face said so much – we were all confident in what got us here, yet each of us were also preparing to be humbled. We all had something to prove, learn and share and that is all a bit scary. The talent around us was abundant, the personalities were strong, and the experience was all so different.

Having come into the program without much of an analytical background, the concepts and practice of some of our early courses truly challenged my mind and spirit. Having a tremendously talented team that came together to genuinely support each other was a saving grace. You cannot get through this program without leaning on others and tempering your pride, as there will always be an opportunity to rise to the occasion and support others. It is critical that you remind yourself that you belong and that we all are here looking to fill gaps and extend our strengths.

We have learned almost as much, if not more from each other as from our incredible professors – a statement I think they would be proud of. From inspiring contributions in class lectures, debate and collaboration in study groups to late night chalk-talk tutoring sessions and equally late-night liquid therapy and laughs… we have come through for each other.

The past two years have seen us grow into an extended family, one that celebrated 10 children, three weddings and numerous promotions. It has also seen us face significant personal and professional challenges. And yet with each shock, be it positive or negative, we responded as a unit, growing not only as individuals, but building a support structure like no other. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your school. We made the right choice.

Words, albeit mine, do not do justice to the impact and opportunity that this Kellogg experience delivers. We all walked onto campus as accomplished professionals, driven to become great leaders, but what we leave with goes so much further than what we could have ever imagined. As individuals, we take with us a wonderful education, a shiny new skill set, and an unparalleled network. But what is equally important, we collectively leave with a new family, one with lifelong friendships, genuine support, and incredible integrity. I am unbelievably fortunate and proud to have been a part of a group that has, and will continue to, challenge, support and inspire me both personally and professionally.

As I say goodbye on this graduation day, and look back to those early challenges and academic struggles, nothing overcomes the many over-the top laughs, heartwarming hugs and overwhelming sense of accomplishment. And despite the burdens of the 11 days between classes for two years, there was never a moment when I didn’t want to be coming back here, with these great classmates in this great place.

Now, it’s onto the next “What’s next?” This time, the path is much clearer. I am much stronger. And I have a new family behind me. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Keith Kostrzewski ’14 recently became the Vice President of Partnerships and Strategy for a technology start-up, digedu, following a 15-year career, primarily in the education industry. Keith has extensive experience in operations, sales, corporate development and key customer delivery in the technology sector. A Buffalo, NY native, Keith received a B.S. in Marketing from Providence College, where he also co-captained the men’s soccer team.