And we did our best to play along. Walking arm in arm with our peacoated parents, we pointed out our renowned libraries and our world-famous lecture halls. We showed them Annenberg, where Harvard had bountifully covered a table with six varieties of apples on pretty doilies. It was as it should have been: our parents asked about our grades, and we said they were good. At elegant restaurants outside of Harvard, they sipped red wine, we did not, and everyone was happy.
But just as they were arriving back at their hotels, we arrived at Pfoho, Adams and Eliot—minus the peacoats and school books. As they retired for the evening, we were on the dance floor guzzling beer and getting it on with the son of some senator.
Throughout the weekend, we hoped to keep up our facade of innocence. Of course, we weren’t nearly as good as Harvard’s paid professional manipulators, who made sure that parents didn’t see our inadequate section leaders or powdered mashed potatoes. Once they were satisfied with our school, we couldn’t keep our parents from turning their attention to us.
Most of us took pains to parent-proof our dorm: no boys under the covers, no beer cans or conspicuous Beirut tables, no condoms, no birth control pills. But what to us appeared innocuous shocked our parents. Even after I explained to my mother that I got the lubricant lying around my room at an assembly on safe contraceptive use, she was confused and uneasy.
Last weekend, for many first-years, two worlds that shouldn’t have collided did. Two months after we’ve left the proverbial nest, our parents aren’t ready to accept our non-academic sides. That the illusion of Harvard as a place of suited professors and pretty doilies has endured almost 400 years of history should warn us that illusions grounded in historical reality will persist. In the eyes of parents, we will continue to be the studious overachievers that we were in high school.
Yet our parents’ illusions shouldn’t limit us, shouldn’t stifle our exploration and shouldn’t stop us from safe sex. We may be the best and the brightest, but what our parents don’t yet realize is that at college, we’re also free to be wild and sexy, if we choose.
But like Harvard with its well-kept grass, we should also try to preserve our parents’ illusions. Over the course of the next four years as we encounter new people and brave new experiences, we may break out of the mold of the studious overachiever.
There’s no reason to upset our parents and involve them at every twist and turn. Harvard could even give us some pointers on hiding our condoms and beer.
—Asya Troychansky is an editorial comper.