Late in the Game: Life as a Mature Harvard Student

While most Harvard first-years are just beginning to exercise their 18-year-old voting rights, others are already veteran participants in the democratic system. And as most college students scramble with fake IDs or persuade older friends to supply them with alcohol, some proudly flaunt legitimate forms of 21-year-old identification--even as early as their first year.

There exists among the majority 17-to 21-year old college population a small minority of undergraduates who have already worked day jobs and paid utility bills--all before receiving their Harvard diplomas.

Taking Time Off: A Time for Change

Many factors motivate students to take time off from school or to begin their college careers only after a break between high school and college.

Roger P. Antaki '99, 25, who lives off-campus, took two years off between his junior and senior years to enlist in the U.S. Army. Antaki says he wanted a real-world experience that Harvard's academic setting could not offer.

Besides training at Fort Benning in Georgia, Antaki spent 12 months in the Republic of Korea.

Twenty-year-old Rene M. Roy '02, a Holworthy resident and a member of the junior varsity hockey team, took time off before college to pursue a professional hockey career.

"I had thoughts of turning pro and wanted to see where hockey would take me," he says.

Roy says his parents were supportive of his decision, even when he opted not to apply to college after high school.

"My parents were fine with my decision because I was still pursuing something--just not something academic," he says.

Samuel R. Hornblower '02, who will turn 21 this April and lives in Canaday, says that after living in Paris for six years and then transferring to a California high school, he needed to discover his own identity as an American before starting college.

"While others can find themselves in Nepal, I needed to find myself here," Hornblower says.

He worked as a tour guide in Alaska for three months and then a volunteer for the National Civilian Community Corp, a program started by President Clinton in 1992.

Hornblower says his year off helped prepare him for college.

"I have changed so much just because of my interaction and experience with human relations. It prepares you for a place as eclectic as Harvard," he says.

Finding Yourself Outside of Harvard

Many students who are older than their classmates say there are advantages to maturity. Antaki says his experience abroad contributed to his personal development, and he was also able to prolong his college career.

"I think of my time off as extending my intellectual Shangri-La," he says.

Mathew A. Mougalian '99, 25, who lives in Dunster, took two leaves of absence during his college career and is now a ninth-semester senior. He says he thinks his time off gave him the opportunity to better identify what he wants to do with his life.

"I think that if I had graduated on time, I would have been a lot more lost than I will be now," he says. "While before I was unsure, at least now I have a notion of what I want to do with myself."

Mougalian was required to withdraw from the school by the Administrative Board and spent his first year as a facilities maintenance worker for the Massachusetts-based Varian Company and his second year and a half working at Waterstone's Booksellers in Boston.

Twenty-three year old Hannah L. Stotland '99, who lives in Leverett House, says her age makes her more appreciative of the college experience.

"When you are only 17, you don't have much experience to compare college life with," she says.

Stotland failed her junior and senior years of high school but still obtained her General Equivalency Diploma (GED). She worked as a museum guide, an Omniplex projectionist and a free-lance caterer before attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania for two years, then coming to Harvard as a junior transfer student.

Hornblower says one of the most obvious advantages of his age directly relates to his social life.

"It's going to be pretty nice being 21 for the majority of my college career," he says.

Recognizing the Age Gap

Although there are certainly perks to being older than college classmates, Stotland says there are undeniable disadvantages as well. She says her age made Harvard more appealing than other colleges she wanted to attend.

"I really wanted a college with grad students at it. At Bryn Mawr, it was getting a bit freakish because I was one of the oldest students there," Stotland says.

Mougalian says being older than most other seniors has made certain job opportunities that are popular among Harvard students less appealing to him.

"I am less inclined to go after one of the...investment banking jobs because you have to give a two-year commitment. I just don't feel like I have enough time to do that," he says. "But at the same time, I don't feel like I need to do that anymore because I have a better sense of what I want."

But other disadvantages to being older cannot be as clearly defined, says Mougalian, who was born on Jan. 11, 1974.

"I introduced myself to an attractive girl in my government section last semester," he said. "But after I found out that her birthday was Nov. I, 1980, I just sat back stunned."

Although Roy says his experiences have changed his attitude toward academics, many of the older students say they do not find an extreme difference between themselves and their younger classmates. Roy says the unique Harvard community might have something to do with this.

"The people at this school are pretty well-grounded," he says.

He added, though, that while students at Harvard may be mature, they lack "real world" experience.

"It's just different out there than what the people at Harvard are going for. While many of my friends already are married and have kids and a mortgage, the people over here have different goals," he says.