Musings From the Mouths of Babes
An Early Report on the State of the Union
So they got here and they met their roommates and they went to the Mixer. They chose classes and turned in problem sets, weathered mid-terms and discovered Elsie's. Life began to settle down a bit. But to the freshmen it's still Harvard. And apparently it's one of the greatest, most exciting places on earth.
Faced suddenly with their first vacation and prospect of eager, inquisitive parents, the freshmen reflect on the first three months in the Yard. What they say will make Mom and Dad very happy. Especially at $10,000 a head.
"Sometimes it's like we're walking around in a dream world," Amy Chua says of her first few months here. "And then you wake up and you say, 'I can't believe I'm at one of the greatest colleges in the world."
"I expected everyone to be boring," she continues. "You know, the glasses-and-books type. But there's a big variety. People are really interesting."
Sitting in the exclusive "round room," others disagree. One freshman laments the fact that no one is as "impressive" as he had hoped. Robert Ulin echoes the idea, but with less frustration. "There are more regular guys here than I expected," he says, adding that he likes school this year better than any other.
Coming from a family of quite a few Harvard graduates, Ed Franklin entered the University wary of the "snooty and close-minded" atmosphere here. But he happily reports that he has found a "relaxed, laid-back" home away from home. For example, he says, "Friends cover up for me when I'm someplace I shouldn't be with some one I shouldn't be with."
Ted Scovell also revels in a new-found camaraderie. "The shaving cream fights are a lot better than I expected," he says. His roommate. who had the distinction of being named the "Scholar-athlete" of Maryland last year, chimes in: "I didn't really expect anything. I guess I expected the food to be better. The food is awful."
Chua and one of her roommates, Susannah Gardiner, wanted to know what it felt like to be obese. So one night at 3 a.m., they stuffed pillows in their clothes and put on their down jackets and went jogging. Now they know what it feels like to be obese. They eat less at the Union these days.
Another time, the rooming group caught the attention of a Harvard policeman, who saw them running frantically across the Yard. When he stopped them, they had to tell him they were hysterical because they had seen a cockroach "big enough to saddle" in their room. "Somedays we just don't stop laughing," Gardiner says.
Jeff Forman, who notes that Canaday is the best place to live on campus because the floors are carpeted, has had a few pretty hysterical memories himself. Like the old toothpaste-on-the-doorknob-to-gross-out-your-roommate routine. It backfired. "Don't put toothpaste on your doorknob," he warns. "See, it's got sugar in it and it hardens and then you can't get the key in."
Because of the high price of airfare, Calvin Ho will not be going home to San Diego to tell funny Harvard stories. Not that he doesn't have any: "The first time it snowed, it was so cold and so white, I really didn't know what to do." He can't remember ever seeing snow before.
"So I ran into my roommate's room and woke him up. I had to ask him what to do, what to wear. He said to take it easy, and I'd get used to it. I did, but it was a shock."
The Guys Downstairs
"They" don't do anything for you here, says Edward Combs. They don't tell you where to find the washing machines that work, or how to track down your history professor. And no one "shows you how to make friends." But at least in Pennypacker, where Combs hangs his hat, "you can really feel like you're part of a community if you try. Making friends really hasn't been that hard."
Canaday C-entry eats together, stringing together one in-joke after another. They talk about putting the doorknob through the wall, and they joke about their janitor. No one complains about "isolation" or unfriendly neighbors. "I expected people to be a lot colder. Everyone, especially the people in my entry, is very nice," one freshman says.
"It's really neat how Harvard is diverse," a roommate agrees.
"Like the guy downstairs goes out with Brooke Shields and lives on Park Avenue, but he's just like you." And that settles it.
"Dean Moses really is so sweet. I expected him to be a cold administrator but he's not at all," one Thayer resident gushes.
Taking Care of Business
Freshmen realize there is a big discrepancy between what you have to do to get A's and what you don't have to do to get B's. This is the only truly disconcerting part of the year.
"I'm working my butt off," the Scholar-athlete admits. But he's not complaining. Nor is Gardiner, who says she thought classes would be "more inspiring." As Rachel Berkovits points out, there is an advantage to doing a little work and still getting decent grades. "It's fun. I'm getting away with doing a lot less work than in high school."
While Scovell says that "the classes should be better," his entry cohorts say they are happy that people are not "nerdy."
Ho, who has already set his heart on the Biochem department, agrees, stating simply that he is surprised he "did not find nearly as much competitiveness" as he thought he would.
Berkovits says, however, that going to college is like being at school all the time, something that increases the pressure. "But I'm not studying," Forman counters. "I'm just doing all the work."
Most freshmen tell their parents everything. Mike Potter has been in close touch with headquarters, calling Las Vegas often enough to let them in on the minor frustrations of the year. "I can be frank with them," he says. "Generally I like it a lot."
Marcy Singer is wondering how to structure all the information she wants to tell her parents. "They'll be pretty interested in classes," she says, adding that she can't let them know about what goes on day to day. Not because she's afraid to, but rather because "it's too much--too confusing to explain."
Mark Rubin says he may have to watch his tongue when friends ask about his first encounter with the Ivy League. "I can't help exhibiting what I've learned and what I've been exposed to, but I really don't want to look down on people." To avoid an elitist reputation, he plans to "stay away from the image of being narrow-minded and better off than people at other schools."
Chua, like her roommate Susannah, will tell her parents that she loves Harvard, but will keep the details to herself. In fact, she realizes, "I'll have to censor everything, especially stuff about my working habits and my eating habits."
What doesn't Chua want her parents to know? That she fools around with her roommates until 3 a.m. and then sleeps from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.
She sighs. "I'm going to tell my parents that it's a great school--but it's just like any other school."
The Harvard Experience
Even if freshmen arrive here determined to resist the lure of Harvard-think, they often find themselves giving in. Paul Manina "didn't go to all of that pep-rally stuff;" he's just not the type. But by the time the Yale game rolled around, "you feel some sort of weird school spirit whether you want to or not." With-Yalies around he "felt obligated to defend the school down the line, meaning every word of it."
Manina's friend, Franklin, "can get quite defensive" if he hears fair Harvard belittled. "After a few drinks, you can build up intense hatred, even," he adds.
For Jon Sapers, the Harvard Experience "is not necessarily a good thing." Sapers tried a semester at McGill University in Canada before arriving here, and he was surprised that "you definitely have to submerge something in yourself to get through at Harvard." Vowing to battle for his individuality, he nevertheless shakes his head about the "strange stigma" that comes with a Harvard diploma.
Jim Garfinkel feels a little jaded, but he talks about his Weltschmertz with a smile. "Nothing will ever surprise me now. Nothing could after this," he says. "I feel like I've seen every type of person you could possibly find, and half of the people here would be considered abnormal anywhere else. Here no one is abnormal. You really get a different view on things."
Less existentially burdened, another freshman asserts, "Every Harvard experience is different. But I think I'm having one."