This one goes out to all you freshmen. I feel sorry for you. I really do. You have so many adjustments to deal with both academically and socially, and on top of that your Ec10 book is going to cost you 156 bones. (Don’t worry, though; the COOP will buy it back at the end of the year for a bag of potato chips.)
It’s not easy being a stressed and confused freshman, and to make it even worse, it feels like everywhere you go people are watching and waiting for you to embarrass yourself. Think you stick out now? Just wait until a tourist in the Yard takes your picture as you busy yourself with lofty academic activities for which Harvard students are famous, such as scratching your nose.
Well, believe it or not, even students such as myself were once freshmen, and I have developed a few techniques to help mask the fact that you’re a Yard-dwelling, Expos-writing frosh. My methods have proven so effective that, during my freshman year, there were several occasions when students, professors, and, yes, even my parents, mistook me for a junior, senior, Larry Summers, etc.
If you want to shake this paranoia that everyone is watching you, you must be cognizant of your appearance. Now I know that it may be your most prized possession at the moment, but you’ve got to stop wearing your Harvard ID on a lanyard around your neck. Many of you freshmen wear that thing with such passion and commitment that it looks like you’re about to meet up with Samwise and scale Mt. Doom. Some of you have already discovered subatomic particles, yet you still haven’t discovered the joys and practicality of the pocket, wallet, or purse. Buy a briefcase, put your ID in it, and handcuff it to you wrist if it’s that important to you. Just keep that lanyard off your neck and out of sight if you don’t want to stick out as a frosh.
Also, try to avoid traveling in packs. It might seem counterintuitive to separate from your crew when you are trying not to “stick-out”, but trust me, it’s easy to pick out a gang of nervous freshmen. There is no need to round up 15 people to make the treacherous walk from Canaday to Science Center B while talking at the top of your lungs about how you were so wasted last night that you went to Felipe’s and ordered two slices of pepperoni. Upperclassmen who see such a pack will instinctively go on the attack with noogies and steal your lunch money.
Above all else, stop trying so hard to impress people. You can stop wearing your “Varsity Mathlete” jacket from high school, and there is no need to talk about how “chill” those four years were while doing curls in the MAC. Academically, you won’t impress your professors or peers by asking an inordinate number of questions. I saw this little exchange between a professor and a freshman the other day:
PROFESSOR (lecturing to class): “As you can see, one of the most sacred locations in Mesoamerica was the mountains.”
EAGER FRESHMAN: “So would you say that mountains were sacred in the Mesoamerican lifestyle?”
PROFESSOR: (looks around confused).
There are a ton of smart people here, but you don’t have to go out of your way to show that you are just like everyone else. I know it’s hard to deal with the fact that some of your fellow classmates have memorized the first 100 digits of pi while you still struggle to memorize your three digit mailbox number. It may seem like everyone in your calculus class can divide by zero except for you, but keep things in perspective. Remember that no matter how impressive other Harvard students appear, no one is perfect. Except for me. I never make misteaks.
Thus you have plenty of reasons to be confident. This year’s freshman class is so smart that, remarkably, every single one of you scored over 1600 on your SATs. You beat every single student in the classes above you. You belong. So don’t worry so much about embarrassing yourself in front of upperclassmen. Fell down the stairs in front of a bunch of people? So what? I somehow fall up the stairs about once a day. Dropped your tray on the floor in Annenberg? Just watch the upperclassmen eat in our dining halls. Our food-to-mouth success rate is about 50 percent.
Freshmen and upperclassmen alike suffer from unavoidable awkwardness. Sure, we love laughing at you when your cell phone goes off in the middle of lecture to the tune of the “Macarena,” but when it comes down to it, we really aren’t very concerned with you. We have plenty of other more important things to worry about, like writing resumes, walking to the Quad, and looking for our lost Harvard ID cards.
Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.