“Are you crazy?” Those were the honest first words of disbelief from my husband and two sons when I first broached my proposal to apply for a mid-career Master’s program in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Looking back at the rigors of the Kennedy School curriculum and the daily struggles tackling the mountain-loads of preparatory material for and after each class, I must confess, there were a number of occasions where I found myself asking the same exact question. Am I indeed crazy? I’m 55, not 35. Do I really belong here?
However, despite the occasional doubt, I am immensely glad and deeply satisfied that I managed to tough it out and cross the finish line. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and meaningful the entire learning journey had been.
The professors, teaching fellows, course assistants are brimming with intellect, pedigree, and passion. I am constantly humbled by their willingness to walk the road with us students, and their receptivity to alternative views.
My peers too come from varied backgrounds, each bringing with him or her unique perspectives of life and life experiences. The course syllabus is also dynamic and wide-ranging, spanning lessons in economics, government policies and politics, social entrepreneurship, ethics and morality, leadership, to name but a few.
Needless to say, classes – while demanding – are never dull. I fondly recall us fighting hard for an opportunity to share our views and contribute to the discussion. Everyone brought something to the table, and the professors made sure of that. There were no wrong answers, though fools are quickly exposed. The approach is simple: Come to class prepared, keep an open mind, and the fun will follow.
So as I pack my belongings for the long voyage back to Singapore and as I gaze nostalgically at my favorite library spot that has almost become my second home over the past 10 months, allow me to share some words of advice to those in my shoes who are similarly contemplating a return to school after decades of hiatus in between.
Do it! Ignore the naysayers and your own mental barriers which attempt to dissuade you by stressing that you are too old, too divorced from the classroom, or that the added certification is not worth the effort.
One is never too old to learn something new. If one is receptive to new views, there remains lots of information, experiences and perspectives out there that we can and should harness as part of our personal development.
It is also less about attaining the qualification than it is about appreciating the journey.
Learning, interacting and networking with my professors and peers has been an absolute joy, honor and privilege. This experience alone would be worth the application, even if there was no golden certificate to be had at the end of the rainbow.
As such, if one is fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity to study at the Kennedy School, take it without hesitation. There may be things in life that we look back upon with regret. I assure you that a Harvard stint will not be one of them. Just stay diligent and keep an open mind.
Thank you for the education, Kennedy School. Thank you for allowing me to finally fulfil my long-held desire for further education, one that I had repeatedly held off because of competing career priorities. Most importantly, thank you for providing the many good memories I am taking home with me.
If fortune favors me again, I may one day submit another application to return to the classroom. If so, please assess it favorably.
Siahoe Lim has experience in tripartite (labor, business and government) engagement and relationships. She is involved in policy and strategic management, especially in employment of older workers. She is currently heading a social enterprise, providing health and aged care services.