Notes From Experience

The Outgoing President Offers Commentary and Advice

Not so long ago, in a galaxy reasonably close by, there was a little...well, a medium-sized girl who came to an old, old school far away from home. The school was scary and the weather was cold, but the girl decided to stay and write for a newspaper. She decided that she wanted to be president. After many years, she became president and was happy. But her story was not over...until her board named someone else to succeed her and her term ended. Then she went home to get some sleep, returning only to write a parting shot before she headed off into the wilds of Borneo.

Well, actually, I'm just going back to Currier to work on my thesis. The wilds of Borneo would be easier.

Traditionally, the outgoing president of The Crimson gets to write a final farewell in the first paper of the new guard. This piece is supposed to be centered around a grand overarching Theme, such as the lack of morality in society or the wrongness of the Gulf War. Free from the constraints of being a responsible campus figure, the former president can pontificate on some Really Important Things.

I've rarely gone for grand, overarching Themes. Besides, I've already written two virtual magna opera for this very editorial page on semi-overarching themes. I don't think the world really needs another.

Thus, my parting shot will be a collection of recollections and brief judgements on matters that have caught my attention during the past few years. If you want a Theme...well, I guess it's about what I learned at Harvard, both inside and outside 14 Plympton Street. It's not original, but it's not really pretentious, either.

Many of my friends have asked me during the past few months if I've ever regretted joining The Crimson. I've thought it over and said no, telling them that I get bored too easily if I have too little to do.

Do I feel I've missed the "Harvard experience?" No. There's a myth that there is some Harvard experience that few people manage to glory in fully. Supposedly, these chosen few finish their four years with a sense of great accomplishment, while the rest of us wish we'd studied harder in Foreign Cultures or tried out for the band.

Everyone here seems to have the feeling that they're missing something that would make their lives complete. I've occasionally felt that way too. But the truth is that there is no one "Harvard experience." Nor is it possible to take "full advantage" of Harvard's extracurricular offerings, even without sleep.

This is hard for Harvardians to accept. Take me, for example. In high school, I was an award-winning debater, editor of the newspaper and in the honors choir. I thought I'd be able to repeat the experience here. Instead, I spent a lot of time at The Crimson, and squeezed in the occasional debate event and weekly two-hour chorus rehearsal.

If had been somewhat more motivated, maybe I would have spent more time on the debate circuit and less at The Crimson. If I had been more talented, perhaps I could have been in the Radcliffe Choral Society and spent less time debating and reporting. But you can't be a singing star, Crimson president (or hardworking executive) and a champion debater. It's not possible, even if you stick to guts and don't go to class.

If there is any "Harvard experience," it's about choice, and making decisions about one's life. All that junk you hear about Mother Harvard and her young...it's all true. If you don't want to get much out of Harvard, then stay in your room. But if you do want to take advantage of the place, pull out the Unofficial Guide and decide on five activities that look interesting. Attend their next meetings. Don't like your life? Take steps to change it. But don't look back in the spring of your senior year, complain that you didn't get enough out of Harvard and expect sympathy.

Consider it a warm-up for life, where decisions about career paths, places to live and children will probably be major concerns. The only true Harvard experience is wondering how exactly turkey gets "escalloped." Otherwise, it's up to you and your initiative.

Of course, this gives a somewhat splintered view of our fair university. Yup. There's a reason that the cover of last year's Commencement tabloid in The Crimson had a shattered Harvard seal on the cover.

Nowhere have I seen this more intensely than in race relations on campus. True, as President Neil L. Rudenstine has told me in interviews, it's not Bosnia. Nor is it Birmingham in 1950. But is a pretty tense place to be at times.

Ironically, if there is one area that Harvard students become more conservative in as their time here goes on, it's race..(This is based on a highly unscientific survey that my Statistics teaching fellow wouldn't even give me my needed "pass" grade on, of course.) I've seen my friends and acquaintances become more liberal regarding gay and lesbian issues, abortion rights and environmental concerns. But I've seen many people go from Democratic to Republican views when it comes to race and minority affairs.