Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco (SSF) had been my dream experience since I first learned about the unique program during a school research project for Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s rigorous MBA Prep Fellowship back in 2014. In my Wharton MBA admission essay submitted in early January 2015, I wrote about my desire to join the SSF program to network with innovators, investors and change-makers who make up the DNA of Silicon Valley’s tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. When I got into Wharton and touched down on campus in Philadelphia, I made a beeline for the administrators in charge of coordinating the competitive SSF program so I could demonstrate my interest early in hopes that these folks would look favorably on my application later in the year.
The official description of the SSF program is as follows:
The Wharton School provides the opportunity for a select group of MBA students to spend the fall semester of their second year taking classes in San Francisco. All classes and other activities are held at the Wharton San Francisco campus located at the Hills Brothers Plaza on the Embarcadero.
The Semester in San Francisco combines classroom instruction with extracurricular activities and various kinds of engagement with the regional economy to create a cohesive educational experience. The specific course electives offered are selected through a process that begins by soliciting proposals from second year MBA students who have expressed interest in the program. The curriculum tends to be focused on entrepreneurship and technology and draws upon the people and resources of the Bay Area.
In a nutshell, the program is an entrepreneur’s dream.
For context, it is important to note that I was going through a divorce during the same year I applied to business school, so consulting my ex-husband on major life decisions is critical because we work together to co-parent our four year old daughter, Nyah. I told my co-parent about my SSF dream well ahead of the application deadline, informing him that — if I was admitted, I would need his support with Nyah. Assured that I’d get the support I needed from my co-parent, I went full steam ahead with my SSF application. Ultimately, I was thrilled to be admitted.
The deal I struck with my ex-husband was as follows:
- Nyah would live with him in Los Angeles Monday — Friday during the fall semester that I was in San Francisco
- He would take over her day-to-day needs as the primary caregiver and I would travel from SF to LA two or three weekends per month to spend time with her
This arrangement would free me up to have flexibility in my schedule to attend random networking events, happy hours, etc. without incurring the expense of a nanny (which is exorbitantly priced in SF). Of course, I would not want my child living in a roommate situation so having my co-parent carry the load would enable me to save money by living in less than desirable conditions. (sidenote: the housing situation in SF is incredibly broken and ridiculous. Six 40-year old tech employees with decent salaries living in a 3 bedroom apartment is mind-blowing). During this past summer, my co-parent had been responsible for Nyah Monday — Friday, which empowered me to focus 100% on my internship. It was excellent for everyone involved, and I greatly appreciated his support. Nyah was happy to be spending so much time with her dad, and I was able to immerse myself in my internship. In my view, my co-parent and I were set to continue this arrangement through the Fall. Or, so I thought.
Approximately 8 days before I was scheduled to head to San Francisco, my co-parent casually told me that he had changed his mind and was reneging on the deal we had struck nearly six months before. He described feeling overwhelmed because him and his new partner were expecting a new baby. I was in the process of dropping Nyah off to him on a Sunday evening because I had work the next day. I believe some of his exact words were:
I’m really sorry Divinity but I have a lot going on. I can’t deal with this right now, so you’ll have to figure it out.
I had our daughter in the car with me when he told me this. Not wanting to make a scene in front of her, and honestly, still quite in shock, I said ok to him, said goodbye to Nyah and drove away. One block away from his house, I pulled my car over to the curb and began to sob uncontrollably. I was so heartbroken that he had this power over me; the power to halt my Silicon Valley dream based on his mood and life circumstances. After about 10 minutes of crying like a newborn, I pulled myself together and drove home. I barely slept that night.
I was so disappointed in my co-parent for pulling this stunt. I was upset that he could pick and choose when to take on his parental responsibilities while I literally have no choice. I can’t just decide not to take care of Nyah when I’m feeling overwhelmed with life but he has that choice because he knows that, if he opts out, I will be there to pick up the pieces. I was also disappointed in myself for failing to have a back-up plan and trusting someone who has let me down many times in the past. The point of this post is certainly not to bash my co-parent. He is a wonderful father and Nyah loves him very much. But, on this particular issue, he was completely in the wrong.
Not wanting to accept defeat, I made a Facebook post on August 11th asking for help. I also called or emailed 50+ pre-schools over the next few days. Every single reputable place I called either was not enrolling new kids, or they were extremely overpriced and out of my student budget, or they had 12–18 month waiting lists for Nyah’s age group.
I also followed up with my co-parent to essentially beg him to reconsider. I noted our earlier agreement and re-emphasized how important this opportunity was for me and my career and ultimately Nyah’s wellbeing. He offered to keep Nyah in November and December if I would keep her September and October. I explained that, in order to make San Francisco work, I needed his support for the full Fall semester as we had previously agreed. He would not budge and essentially told me that his Nov/Dec proposed arrangement was more than fair.
Feeling my Silicon Valley dream slipping away, I contacted Amy, my academic advisor at Wharton informing her of my situation. Extra tuition fees had already been charged to my student account, housing agreements were in the works, and I was enrolled in courses in San Francisco. Notably, I was NOT enrolled in any courses at Wharton’s main campus in Philadelphia. Somehow through the grace of God, I was able to scramble and connect with the right people at Wharton to get registered for courses in Philadelphia and retain my apartment which I was in the process of subleasing to a lovely family. I felt horrible to have to tell them my apartment was no longer on the market, and I felt really bad for holding up the place I’d found for myself in San Francisco.
Basically, it was a shit show. I experienced a few days of mild depression (I literally could not get out of bed). I distinctly recall eating massive amounts of guacamole and watching the full season of Narcos in one day once I realized I was NOT going to be spending my Fall 2016 semester in San Francisco. I am so thankful to everyone who tried to connect me with housing and childcare resources in the Bay Area: Amaka O., Sharica P., Jameel F., and my StartingBloc fam Nicole P., Cesar G., Debra C., John K., and Geronimo C. I appreciate you all so much.
I am especially thankful to my sister, Kamara, my mentor, Carlene, and two of my best friends, Martha and Venessa, all of whom spent time with me in Los Angeles, prayed with me, nursed me back to health after this fiasco and told me everything was going to be okay.
I have been back in Philadelphia for about 3 weeks now. Although I really wanted to be in Silicon Valley, I have accepted my fate. The reality is that parents, especially moms who are primary caregivers, make these type of tradeoffs every day in our careers. We put the best interests of our children ahead of our dreams even when it hurts. Parenthood is not all cute Facebook pictures hanging at the pool or taking my kid to Disneyland. Shit gets real when you have to put your wants and desires on the back burner to provide the best possible life for your child.
Nyah is back in the pre-school she attended last year. Her friends and teachers were so happy to see her and she has adapted very quickly. It feels excellent to be back in my apartment, in an environment that feels like home. It has also been wonderful to plug back into the Wharton community. I was very annoyed by the dozens of well-meaning Wharton peers who, upon seeing me on campus would say: What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in San Fran? My short answer to these questions has become: while I really wanted SSF to work, securing childcare proved to be too big of a challenge so I came back to Philly. The full answer is in this blog post.
One day, I’d like to integrate myself into the Silicon Valley tech and entrepreneurship scene. I am working on some exciting stuff — more on that in the coming weeks! For the time being, my Silicon Valley dream is deferred. And I’m okay with that.