Morgane Herculano, diving head

Morgane Herculano
Morgane Herculano

Multiple Swiss diving champion, student at Harvard, the 20-year-old Genevan has put her studies on hold, preferring to discover the world of start-ups rather than take online courses.

From diving, Morgane Herculano says she likes the mixture of courage and reflection it requires. You have to analyse then dare. The decisions taken are irreversible, at least until the next jump into the void. The characteristics that she appreciates in the practice of her sport, the multiple Swiss champion from Geneva also applies them dry, outside the pools. When most students her age (she has just turned 20) dream of an Erasmus semester abroad, she decides to leave her prestigious Harvard University for a while and return to Geneva.

Fearing perhaps boredom, this champion of organisation has been working since this summer in a start-up in Geneva, Wecan Group SA , a consulting firm offering solutions using blockchain technology. “I didn’t study this directly at Harvard, but rather an interest that came to me in parallel, between fintech [financial technology] and regtech [compliance]. I work thirty-four hours a week and I continue to train twenty-two hours with the Swiss team, which makes for a busy day”.

A habit for this precocious sportswoman and very gifted student, who had already completed her federal matriculation exam a year ahead of schedule and averaged 5.4 “with hardly any classes in the last year”. In Cambridge, a suburb of Boston where the Harvard campus is located, her academic level enabled her to condense a bachelor’s degree, which is usually completed in four years, into three years. “I’m in an accelerated programme, quite intense, in economics with a secondary branch in energy and the environment,” she sums up.

Breakfast with Malia

Analyse, dare. “With Covid-19, I would have been forced to study online from my home in Geneva. Postponing all my third-year courses until September 2021 was the best thing to do,” says Morgane Herculano, who wants to see the health crisis “as an opportunity to do things differently. I wrote to Wecan this summer for an internship. Vincent Pignon, the founder, offered me to stay on as project coordinator”.

She recounts this with total simplicity, as if everything was obvious. For her, perhaps. In the spring of 2018, it was with the same naturalness that she turned to Le Temps to explain her problem: she had just been admitted to Harvard, saw it as an opportunity to push her abilities to the limit both in the academic field and on the sports fields, but she didn’t have enough money to pay for an education estimated at $300,000 over three years. Harvard is one of the few American universities that does not offer scholarships to students on their athletic merits.

Thanks to the readers of Le Temps, the budget was put together. With the help of five foundations (including the Panathlon Foundation and the Zdenek and Michaela Bakala Foundation), she says: “I was looking for people, but they found me. These people are following me, I give them news and of course I asked their agreement to take this sabbatical”.

She explained to them that “Harvard is not about taking classes on Zoom; it’s about the relationship with the professors, talking to other students about our respective projects, staying in the library until two in the morning, having breakfast next to Malia Obama [the eldest daughter of the former president] and hardly noticing it. Harvard is this kind of electricity in the air, it’s a constant emulation, a feeling that there’s always something to do or see.

A year to breathe


It is also a means for sport that is incomparable with Switzerland. “For a group of 13 to 15 divers, we have a coach, a physio, a doctor, a physical trainer, a fitness room and of course a reserved pool where you can choose your own schedule,” she lists. The public is admitted if there are still slots available; in Switzerland, it’s quite the opposite. As a member of Harvard’s famous Crimson (crimson), she has donned the famous “H” outfit, competed in the Ivy League (which brings together the eight oldest universities in the north-eastern United States), and tasted the atmosphere of the rivalry against Yale.

She even won the Ivy League championship, qualifying for the elite European Championships, which have since been cancelled. In Geneva, Morgane Herculano returned to the Varembé swimming pool. “Sometimes I think she looks smaller…” The framing is different, but just as good. “I am lucky to have a very experienced coach. At Harvard, he is younger, more energetic. I get the best out of everyone.”

For this young woman who succeeds in everything very quickly, coming to work in Geneva is paradoxically an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. “I have many options for my sporting and professional future. Having another year gives me time to think about them. My goal is still to be able to take part in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Reconciling training and a job in a start-up company is a challenge, especially in an environment where there are few women and few elite athletes, but which for the moment I really enjoy”.

Laurent Favre

Published on Thursday 12 November 2020 at 11:25 AM

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