"Information bureau for new students at Phillips Brooks House." So reads the legend.
"But where is the 'Northwest corner of the Yard'"?
No less confusing than Harvard geography is the tumult of meetings, buildings, people, and "vital" decisions confronting an entering class. The well-meaning patronizing of sophomores, the nebulous advice of juniors, and the aloof disconcern of seniors seldom bring much order out of the chaos. The college might almost as well hire a set of carollers to wander about the Yard singing a medley of "Hold Tight" and "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen."
And yet there are a few traditional bits of advice worth passing on, if only for the sake of the record. Avoid blind dates at Radcliffe and that hideous building on Mt. Auburn St.; ignore resolutely the vultures outside Memorial Hall (except, of course, those offering the Crimson); and learn to sneer with fine Bostonian indifference when you meet the people who can always tell a Harvard man, etc., and who, convulsed, offer the simile: "As aloof as those men about to enter Harvard."
All this has been very negative. The study cards, "due or else"; the meetings in the Union, with their streams of advice and of traditional Harvard (professorial) humor; the coming attempts to draft Freshmen into various extra-curricular activities--these cannot be treated negatively by the men involved. Seriously speaking, then, the problem boils down--after the first, short-lived confusion--to this: how best can a balance be obtained between the academic and the social in a college career?
For most Freshmen, academics will be a hard grind from now until after midyear examinations, next February. Family, faculty advisors, and upperclassmen friends all say "Make a good impression. Work hard now if you never do again." And obedient Yardlings--too many of them--languish long afternoons and evenings in Boylston Hall, a little awed by the lecture method of teaching, more than a little worried by the inevitable unfinished History 1 assignments, sincerely terrified by the prospect of November and Midyear examinations. Most Freshmen, in other words, are too conscientious.
Of course, we would be the last--at least among the last--to suggest a policy of loafing, of laissez faire. The Freshman year is without any doubt the hardest of the four, when measured against the experience of the students involved. There will be work, and plenty of it; but the greatest danger is not the work, but the worry arising from it. More Freshmen fail because of fear than because of inability or laziness. That is a categorical statement, but true. And the remedy for fear is the knowledge that for every confused Freshman, 999 others are in the same boat; also, that teachers--in the courses especially designed for first year men--realize perfectly well that their minions are new at the game, and have set their standards accordingly.
The social side of college life will take care of itself. In other words, it is necessarily unplanned, spontaneous. No planning is done by the college; Harvard treats its students as men, assumes that they will act as such. It is good psychology, and it works. No planning is done by other students: there are no prescribed rites for Freshmen, no hazing. And none is done by the individual, as a general rule. Bull sessions make themselves; so do trips to Wellesley, football weekends, spring riots. Even extra-curricular activities of the more serious sort--writing for publications, playing for athletic teams, doing social service work, singing in the glee club--usually "just happen," and are the most fun that way. Until they get out of hand, they provide the balance necessary for a well-rounded education; and together, academics and social life make more than an idle aspiration of that legend above the Wigglesworth gate: "Enter to grow in wisdom."