Finding Courage at the Kong
I met my girlfriend on the dance floor of the Hong Kong. I know it's cheesy, but we met at Senior Bar, 99 days before graduation. I admired her smile from across the dance floor; she tells me that she admired my bravery in asking her to dance. We hit it off and we've been enjoying each other's company ever since.
I sometimes wonder why it took us three-and-a-half years of college to meet, but I also know of some powerful internal forces that may have been working against our meeting sooner. They are the same feelings that linger in the hearts of all of us to varying degrees, feelings which seem to be coming into even sharper focus in the hearts of graduating seniors: Fear of rejection. Fear of the unknown. Forecasting failure. Desire for security. Unwillingness to put ourselves on the line.
I would hazard a guess that these very feelings have caused most of my fellow seniors to feel a sense of anxiety or nervousness about their personal and social lives after college. We graduates seem to exude a fair amount of confidence regarding our future professional or educational endeavors. These endeavors, after all, are the ones college has been largely preparing us for, the ones that our intellects have been trained for. Our personal lives, however, may be a realm of less confidence for many of us.
Yes, the deep dark secret of the Class of 1999 is that for all of our graduate school acceptances, scholarship awards and high-powered job offers, the prospect of developing social and personal lives on our own, away from this campus, is a bit frightening.
Seniors don't talk about this fear much, but we betray our anxiety in subtle ways. Some are anxiously seeking out classmates who will be living in the same city as them, making promises to hang out with each other on weekends. Others mask their anxiety by insisting that their 80-hour-a-week jobs suit them just fine. A social life, they say, isn't too important when you're climbing the corporate ladder and getting such significant professional stimulation. Still others welcome employment in companies that take responsibility for their employees' social lives, scheduling their free time with barbecues, softball games and cocktail hours.
It really isn't a mystery why we might want to avoid having to forge social lives on our own, given that we are suddenly being thrust out of an environment where social life has come so easily. Complaining about Harvard's social scene has been a favorite pastime of ours for four years, but now as we leave this web of extracurricular organizations, blocking groups, Core sections and House life, don't blame us if we get a bit nostalgic for this prefabricated network of friends and social opportunities. When we envision ourselves in a new city, in a new apartment building, disconnected from the fellowship of Quincy House or Kuumba, we fear social isolation, but we don't quite know how to go about shaping our personal lives without the help of an institutional force like Harvard facilitating social interaction.
I don't pretend to have a foolproof solution for getting over this nervousness, since I suffer from it too. But maybe I have more answers than I realize. For instance, when I think about the night that I first met my girlfriend on the dance floor at the Hong Kong, I know that it was only by getting past my own fear and anxiety that I worked up the courage to ask her to dance. Many times before I had chickened out of striking up conversations with attractive women at parties; that night I resolved to put myself on the line and not let my fear consume me. I had no idea that that dance would lead to something more, but I knew I'd be kicking myself in the morning if I hadn't at least tried.
Earlier that same night, some friends of mine decided not to go to the Senior Bar event at the Kong, offering familiar refrains of "I don't know anyone who is going," and "It's not like I'm going to meet anyone new there." At the time I called my friends wimps, but I knew that it could have just as easily been me offering the same excuses to mask my apprehension. Approaching graduation and moving to a new city, I wonder if I will make those same kinds of excuses in turning down new opportunities.
Or maybe I'll learn the lesson of that night at the Kong. Maybe I'll take chances more often, and stop thinking that disaster will result. Countless opportunities are bound to present themselves to all of us after we leave Harvard. We can choose to play it safe and avoid intimidating situations, or we can take advantage of those opportunities and let loose a parade of possibilities. If we take a few chances, we'll never wonder about what might have been, and we'll never again have to make excuses. Adam R. Kovacevich'99 is a government concentrator in Quincy House. This is his final column.