In the wake of shopping period, it’s not unusual to find oneself drowning in syllabi, hours of sourcebook reading and self-pity. For those more ambitious types who filled in that daunting fifth space in their study cards last week, the coursepacks and textbooks pile up near the ceiling.
But Kevin B. Holden ’05 has every bleary-eyed student beat. The Winthrop House Literature concentrator is currently enrolled in eight classes, which requires two different study cards, the signature of his senior tutor and a petition to the Ad Board. Holden’s classes include: “Poets as Critics” (Lit 133), “Philosophy of Mathematics” (Phil 148), Trees (Science B-40), a conference course entitled “The 20th-Century Post-Realist Novel in Eastern Europe” (Comp Lit 164), the sophomore Literature tutorial (Lit 97b), a proseminar entitled “Husserl and Heidigger” (Phil. 136), and “Intensive German” (German Bab), which is the equivalent of two courses.
“Part of the reason I take all these classes is that I skipped my senior year of high school and came in very enthusiastic,” says Holden, who took six courses last semester. “A lot of my classes have similar themes and I thought it would be interesting to engage them all at the same time.” Also, he says, he feels pressure to take courses that may not be offered in the future.
In addition to this laundry list of courses, Holden serves on the poetry board of The Harvard Advocate, is assistant editor of Gamut, an editor of history for Cinematic, secretary of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance and a research assistant for Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Tom Conley. Moreover, he is performing in a Russian play for the Slavic department, works in Winthrop House Library and tries to help out at Grolier Book Shop whenever possible.
“I don’t think I’m very good at time management,” Holden admits. He calls the past year “frenetic” and “confused.” He said he “lost sleep” and “didn’t eat much” before realizing that this “wasn’t the way.” “Don’t worry so much about work and go to bed,” he now advises students whose coursework is limited to a single study card.
But such advice is cheap from an academic dynamo who wrote 183 pages for a 25-page joint essay for a Dostoevsky proseminar in the Slavic department and “Introduction to the Theory of Sexuality” (Lit 105) his freshman year. “I had been contemplating these questions over the course of the semester,” Holden says. “Basically, I sat down in the library [during spring reading period] and just kept going back to write more. Every page opened more questions.” With this kind of determination, it’s not surprising that when it comes to grades, Holden says simply, “I like them.”
The impending demise of shopping period is especially daunting for such an academic man for all seasons. “[Shopping period] is one of the nicest things we have,” Holden says. “Part of the luxury of going to Harvard is that you can get a taste of what a professor or a class is going to be like beforehand. It’s essential.”
Holden’s brisk, kind voice accentuates his innate attention to detail. He treats every sentence out of his mouth with delicate precision, as if it is to be his last, and often frames them with dramatic gestures. During conversation, he interacts with his environment almost as much as the individual he is talking to, often wiping or scratching the table in between words and phrases.
Socially, the neatly, stylishly-dressed Holden says he prefers quiet, relaxing conversation with friends to loud, raucous parties but is “considering going out more.” He is an active writer of novels and poetry, though he admits that he is “not ready to share what [he] makes.”
“It’s very interesting how there’s a porous relationship between what [Holden] reads and studies and his personal life,” Marcel A.Q. LaFlamme ’04 says. “So many students tend to compartmentalize between what they do in school and who they are outside. He makes me wonder why there need to be such rigid distinctions.”
Holden says he’s just following his interests, and that there’s no reason to hold back. “It seems that Harvard creates the sensation that we should all be doing what everyone else is doing,” he says, “that we should all follow the same path, although few people seem to really be on this same path. Follow your instincts about that which you care for, that which you love in life and learning.”