It sounds a bit cliched, I guess, but in the end a Harvard education is far more a disjointed set of images than it is any single experience.
The veneer of tradition and reputation that "Harvard" has from the outside is either forgotten by the end of freshman year or reaches the stature of low farce. Harvard seems to be the Brownian motion of 25,000 very isolated, talented and not infrequently neurotic individuals.
But the very same immensity of the University that drove me and so many friends to the depths of despair in our freshman year makes Harvard ultimately a very personal, unique experience. You grow up through all this chaos, even though the change sneaks up on you.
It was being tear-gassed in the Square and meeting the phalanxes of the Somerville Tactical Police my freshman year, and meditating with friends at dawn on the Winthrop House balcony, and sitting up late at night in existential anguish with Bob and cigarettes and booze, and being put in a room my sophomore year with five people very different from myself when Bob decided not to return (he's a carpenter now in Rochester, N.Y.) and the grayish flow of classes and ceremonies: These were the landmarks of both the liberation and frustration which molded my maturation.
Perhaps the most amazing part of being at Harvard though is the "freshness" of the experience. You can never anticipate just how things will turn out. The run of chaos slows for a moment while you catch your breath, and two months past seems ever so far away.
My sister told me before I set out for Cambridge that it would probably be the first time in my life that I would be wildly elated and abysmally depressed at the same time.
Alison, you were so right.