Finding a path in business: A student’s experience with DECA points toward a future in business

Zaid Khan, article author, headshot
Zaid Khan, Anoka High School

I can envision myself 10 years from now in a business suit, presenting a proposal to a group of investors – just like in my judged event. Before, I had seen only black when picturing my future career.


As the announcer declared my name, an applause erupted in the Plymouth hotel’s jam-packed conference room. I started walking toward the stage and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me.

Walking up to the stage, I felt like the stairs would never end. Moments later, in front of hundreds of other people, I was announced as a finalist for the DECA competition.

Looking out at all my friends and peers from the stage, I had found success in a way that I had never imagined.

I had found my path.


Going back to the weeks and months of preparation, I never would have thought I would find the success I did at the DECA conference.

DECA is a national organization that prepares youth to be leaders 
and entrepreneurs in the global world. It has chapters at high schools throughout the U.S. that students like myself can join. The organization is centered on competitive conferences where students are evaluated by judges in career areas such as marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

My first encounter with DECA came in Fall 2014 when I heard some friends of mine talking about going to a meeting for the club. I had never heard of DECA but was intrigued at what all my friends were talking about.

They talked about dressing up
 in business clothes and spending a weekend at a hotel for a competitive conference. The thought piqued my interest even more, as I started thinking about myself dressed in a business suit at a hotel.

Zaid Khan (right) poses for a photo with his DECA advisor, Douglas Orr. (Photo submitted)

I started to attend all club meetings and eventually signed up and made the commitment in November 2014 for the conference.

At that point, I didn’t know really what to expect from the conference, but I was thrilled for the challenge ahead.

As I stepped off the bus and walked into the hotel lobby in January 2015, I was overwhelmed by how many people were attending the conference. With hundreds of students from all over the district, it seemed DECA had taken over the hotel.

After taking a test on marketing and business the night we arrived, sleep was nowhere to be found. My mind buzzed with images of my event the next morning.

The following day my partner and I, feeling prepared and ready to go, walked into a small conference room and sat down with a judge, a middle- aged woman who looked friendly. We presented a marketing research plan, role-playing as if we were truly presenting the plan for a local airport and the judge was our boss.

The conversation went smoothly, with my partner and I hitting all the objectives we set out at the start.

In other words, we killed it. Leaving the room, we felt confident with our presentation.

Later that night, papers were posted in the hotel lobby, showing who did and who didn’t advance
 to the competition’s final round. Students’ reactions varied from ecstatic to dismal, as some moved on and others were left behind.

Luckily, or perhaps skillfully, our names were on the paper. 
On the final morning of the conference, we presented one more time, and afterward we all met in a large conference room to find out who would become a finalist and qualify for the state conference.

As I stood there waiting for my name to be called, it felt like I was being sucker-punched with anxiety. But, as people continued to be announced, I suddenly heard a name that sounded familiar: my own.

The following moments were a blur, a mixture of clapping, walking up to the stage and almost passing out from anxiety.

As I stood on stage, I was awarded and announced as a finalist with my partner. We both stood there in front of the crowd and gave each other knuckles. In my mind, this is what success looks like.

And all of a sudden, a path was formed in my head.


Finding something I was not only interested in, but also successful at, has opened my eyes to possibilities and opportunities in a career spectrum I didn’t even know existed before. I’ve now chosen a college with a great business program that will fuel my passion for business-related careers.

I can envision myself 10 years from now in a business suit, presenting a proposal to a group of investors — just like in my judged event. Before, I had seen only black when picturing my future career.

Writing this story now, almost a year after the conference, that path has led me to become Anoka High School’s DECA president.

And I believe that my success won’t stop there.

It’s only just begun.