LUMS: Twenty years and counting

2016 marked 20 years of graduation from grad school, for my classfellows and myself, the Class of 1996.

Admission to the MBA programme at LUMS, was hard enough in 1994, but now, it seems it would be easier to win the lottery than to get admission, the demand has grown exponentially for my alma mater, which remains a centre of excellence in the very heart of Pakistan.

I look back and think of my time at LUMS, and remember that it had its own unstoppable energy and pace. We were the first inhabitants of the new Defence campus, and this new campus, where the paint was still drying as we entered, became our world and quite literally our oyster.

When I sauntered into the Summer Orientation Programme, SOP, in August 94, I had wrongly correlated the word “summer orientation” with familiarising oneself with the campus, the hostel, the library, the computer lab, making new friends, summer picnics and browsing through the reading material, whilst we settled in and had our student passes and library cards made. All of that was over in about sixty odd minutes and, mind you, there were no picnics. We hit the ground running and there was a whole month of SOP ahead of us.

One month that turned out to be an extraordinary and endless roller coaster of assignments, readings, discussion groups, lectures, CPs, sleepless nights followed by very long days, on a 24/7 repeat cycle, seven days a week for four weeks that stretched longer than any four weeks that I have ever known. Sleep deprivation is a classic side effect of, yes, I hear you say torture, no, I mean it is also a well known side effect of LUMS. And once we were sufficiently orientated, and the SOP was over, and we celebrated having survived it, that’s when the two year degree began in all earnest.

Many of our non hostelite friends wistfully wished they lived on campus, as they merely went home to sleep and promptly return the following morning. Many of them even became hostelites, bidding adieu to their parents to come and join us.

LUMS gave me some of my bestest friends, who remain so to this day. The hostel situated at the edge of campus was buzzing day and night. It was a bit like the city that never sleeps. Someone was always brewing a fresh cup of tea, or whipping up a midnight snack, or sitting with a stack of reading in the lounge, whilst someone else was quite miraculously taking a catnap in the midst of all this activity. There was one phone for the whole hostel, and it was always ringing. We shared one fireplace in the winter and one gigantic water cooler in the summer. Melodious strains of music wafted through every room, ghazals meeting hip hop meeting Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on the stairs and then each tune carrying itself down the corridors. It was like a slumber party that went on for two years !

The campus itself was beautiful, sprawling, verdantly lush, with greenery sprouting at every corner, harmoniously designed with its towering inspiring entrance. There were grand plans for further development and expansion, but at that time, it was just us and our seniors and the bright eyed BSc’s who enjoyed this unchartered territory, all 60 acres of it, on the periphery of Lahore. There was volleyball by night, and musical evenings under the stars and hanging out at Pepsi dining hall. Not for us the culinary diversity that LUMS currently offers it students. We only had Pepsi dining hall and that was always buzzing !

LUMS had its own in house lingo, known only to those who are enrolled there, but a mystery to the humble outsider. Between WACs, DRs, CPs and professorial acronyms for legendary professors such as JAM and ZIQ, studying at LUMS was like living on a different planet, just a few minutes away from Lahore.

And day and night, it was home for two years. The weeks were spent in class, or in the library preparing the next days assignments, and the weekends spent in the computer lab, pouring over weekend assignments and meeting deadlines. To getaway, one went to the phaatak for parathas, or to main market for some well deserved freshly squeezed juices with a take away paan for later, or to the inner city, especially for nihari washed down with almond milk.

It was a rigourous education, there was endless reading, analysing under pressure and deadlines, thinking of something intelligent to say and not floating a “dabba CP” that would go down in the history of LUMS kind as the flakiest ever class participation, but as an insight that had gone unnoticed till then, worthy enough to catch the teachers attention and force him or her to mark an above average CP, so one could then relax for a few days, safe in the knowledge that the normally distributed curve would act as a buffer at both ends.

But it also taught us the art of team work, of leadership and of undertaking real life projects with real figures and real consequences, so that one was equipped to enter the real world and hit the ground running. It taught me that some people are number crunchers, and numbers quite possibly speak to them, and others like myself, will sit there for hours wrestling with the numbers, neither of us speaking each others language, never mind the number crunching.

As the time came to graduate, and the MBA project was edited, printed and bound in leather, and the final presentation made to the client, and the grades announced, and everyone heaved  a sigh of relief, I looked back and realised that through the hard work, the deadlines and the challenges, and those bleak moments when I thought, “how will I ever get through this”, two years of LUMS had actually hardwired us for excellence. Aristotle was right when he said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” LUMS really was and is a centre for excellence.

Many of my classfellows and countless other alumni have gone on to become trailblazers in their fields. Some are entrepreneurs who have changed the landscape of their industries. Others have scaled great heights, be it in the corporate world or otherwise. It is at once humbling and uplifting to be part of such a diverse, talented, successful and multi faceted community.

And so, when the twenty year reunion came around, the invitation brought with it so many  wonderful memories too. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it for the reunion, but after seeing the pictures, I felt even more nostalgic, and am most certainly going to be there for the twenty first year reunion.

Two decades have taken us all in different directions, a long way away from our time at LUMS, yet, the memories are still wonderful and etched into the architecture of life’s memory bank.

Thank you LUMS !

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