What am I doing here?

Is this the real world? Or is it just prefrosh weekend?

So you’re here for prefrosh weekend. Someone just handed you this Crimson on your way to one of eight ice-cream socials where you have patiently asked “Where are you from?” “What are you thinking of concentrating in?” “Do you think you will come here?” 78 times. The weather is rumored to be 70 degrees, but 70 degrees in Cambridge somehow translates to what you perceive as 50. It’s cloudy. At the 80s dance you are about to attend, you will notice how many Harvard students are so pale that they actually glow under a blacklight. All this is very disconcerting. On your ride over on the plane, you sat between some kid with a BlackBerry who wanted to compare the opportunities for junior politicians at Harvard and Brown and a girl wearing six scarves who wanted to tell you about all the high-school theater shows she had revitalized with her post-Foucaultian directing style. You are just a normal person. It comes out in the course of conversation that you don’t even play the violin.

The one class you decided to attend —“Logic and Number Theory”—turned out to be on the second floor of something called Sever and have a total of three students. You have no idea why this was on the list, because the professor speaks in a nervous, high-pitched whisper and is talking about “Well-Orderings.” You have no idea what these are. You tried taking notes for about six minutes before giving up and spending the remainder of the time nodding significantly at appropriate intervals. When you got up to leave after 30 minutes, the professor stared beseechingly after you with big, sad eyes, as though you were betraying him.

Six of your past seven meals have been ice-cream socials, but the one that wasn’t you ate in Kirkland. It consisted of something called scrod, and you had no idea what it was or why they put that sauce on it. Some people told you that this was a Boston specialty, but they didn’t sound entirely convinced. This made you think about going into Boston, but the signs on the T pointing towards vague concepts like “Alewife” and “Braintree” sounded too ominous.

You saw “Legally Blonde,” so you know that Harvard is full of snobby brunettes and men who roll out of bed every morning fully dressed in suits and ties. You also may have seen “Love Story,” so you know that, even in a movie about passionate romance between Harvard students, they somehow thought it was necessary for one of the lead characters to have a unibrow. This doesn’t increase your confidence. You think fondly of those other things you’ve always associated with college—Animal House! That YouTube video “I Love College!” Recently, “The House Bunny”! Where are the frat houses? Where are the nubile, tan people you were hoping would be a significant part of your college experience?

Apparently, they are in the room where you are staying. When you meander back from an evening of milk and cookies with a group of lovely people who should be gently encouraged to bathe more, your host tells you that you can’t walk through the bedroom to your sleeping bag because, at long last, her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend are consummating their relationship. You climb out onto the roof, crawling along a drain pipe until you reach a window that you think is yours. It’s not, but you climb inside and fall asleep anyway. In the morning, you are awakened by Harvard pop sensation Peter Shields, who seems confused that you are in his bathroom.

Tomorrow you will go to a comedy show, an a cappella jam, more info meetings, and another ice-cream social. You will stagger home, chastened and broken in spirit, pursued by incessant e-mails from organizations you signed up for in a frenzy induced by three hours of 1920s jazz standards.

Now, dodging to avoid a tourist, you stumble into a puddle and ruin the Harvard sweatpants you impetuously purchased. As you sink down in the middle of the Yard, sobbing, a light rain begins to fall. What is this place? Who are these people? You wonder what you’re doing here. So did we all.

Harvard is full of startlingly normal people who are as surprised to be here as you are. And, actually, there is a scientific reason for this. Dean William Fitzimmons explained that Harvard admits only about 300 people for purely academic reasons, the rare geniuses who rediscovered plutonium and finished Math 55 in high school. (One lived on my floor freshman year. At least, he was rumored to, but he never emerged during the daytime.) In addition to this are some people who excel early in specific fields. The rest of the class is made up of well-rounded, normal people. They come from everywhere in the world, they share your passions, they will make you laugh, and they will teach you about yourself. And you won’t meet any of them during prefrosh weekend.


Alexandra A. Petri ’10 is an English and classics concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.