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When 400 members of Harvard Business School's graduating class signed the MBA Oath one day before taking their degrees last month, there was a fair bit of snickering from cynics who saw the oath as nothing more than a clever marketing scheme.

The MBA Oath, organized by graduating HBS student Max Anderson and about two dozen of his classmates with the support of faculty members Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria, seemed positively naive to some.

Among other things students promised to "act with utmost integrity," guard against conduct that would serve their own "narrow ambitions" to the detriment of their companies and society, "understand and uphold" both the letter and the spirit of the law, and "strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide."

In the wake of the recent economic crisis, with angry fingers pointing from every direction toward Wall Street and a major regulatory overhaul looming in Washington, several leading business journals suggested that the oath might be nothing more than an effort by the best and brightest new minds in business to distinguish themselves from ethically bankrupt financiers who sought short-term personal gain at the expense of their firms, their clientele, and the world economy.

For once, the cynics may be dead wrong.

The MBA Oath has quickly gone viral, with almost 1400 students from at least 25 other schools voluntarily signing on so far. While that number falls far short of unanimous support in the business school community, it's large enough to suggest that the oath resonates deeply with at least a significant segment of America's future executives.

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