Feet Pointed Upward

Before I wrote the second draft of this parting shot, my best friend and I sat down on our common-room floor and had another one of our by-now ritual conversations. It didn’t involve anthropologists. Instead, we talked about the realizations we had come to at Harvard—mostly, that we had grown up and grown to appreciate people and ideas more. That we had changed much since freshman year and that we are, thanks to this place, ready to move on from Harvard but not from the people we talked with here.

Although I grew to love many things at Harvard over the years, I loved most the conversations I had with my friends, classmates, housemates, tutors, teaching fellows, and professors. Every conversation I had helped me think—about mothers in China and daughters in Russia, about the bonds between people and between molecules. I thought about new ideas and old ideas in new ways. Maybe the value of having conversations is obvious even to freshmen, but it can’t be fully appreciated until the end of senior year, when one has grown as much as one can in this place. Only then can one recognize how conversations turn Harvard into a home that helps carry us to our future homes, physical and metaphorical.

That realization became clear to me in the conversation I had before writing this piece. My friend told me how not so long ago in China, a bride about to get married would get carried on a sedan from her house to the house of her in-laws. The people paid to hold the bride ensured that her feet would not touch the ground, lest her soul wander between her former house and the house she hadn’t yet reached and never find a home.

In going through Harvard, we students were carried, like the bride, through the classrooms to the diploma-awarding ceremony and to our new homes. The metaphorical bride-bearers are the physical people with whom we’ve talked, who have made us develop our ideas by explaining them, and made us challenge our beliefs by reconsidering them. They are the students who made me think about the strategy of writing daily or the assumptions behind political science.

Such conversations have allowed some of us to touch ground on the doorsteps of a professional school or a consulting firm—our new homes—but not all of us can see the door of our home-to-be. We, the latter group of people, have to keep our feet pointed upward like those of the bride, safe from the dark earth below and from the rose-colored clouds above—from being weighed down by negativity or propelled toward illusory hopes.

When my feet neither hit the ground nor dangle in the air, but point upward, I have time to reflect on my journey. I cannot navel gaze—because that would hurt my head—nor can I be oblivious to the dangers along the road, but I can recognize the voices of the people who are carrying me. Like the chatter between bride-bearers that enabled the bride to appreciate them for carrying meat—so that the tigers would not devour her—the conversations I’ve had enable me to appreciate the people who shared their knowledge with me so that my ideas would not falter. In other words, I could not argue about social networks if I hadn’t discussed “Bowling Alone” with my classmates.

Like the bride-bearers, the people who spoke with me at Harvard led me to multiple new people and ideas, even though it was not their official job to do so. If I had only had one deep conversation on any given topic, it would not have introduced me to enough ideas to help me develop my arguments. I acknowledge that.

Each person I met also allowed me to build the trust I needed to be carried along to a safe harbor. Each conversation with one professor gave me the courage and trust to speak with another professor. No Harvard experience is complete without such connections.

For some students, leaving Harvard—sometimes with a check in hand—will be like getting a divorce settlement, but I will always carry this place with me, even if I don’t think of it consciously. Like the bride being carried among the fields, I don’t know what the world outside of my old home will look like. I don’t know what it’s like to pay the rent or cook several meals a day, but I trust that the hands that have held me up will help me get to the new place I hope I’ll grow to love, because the people who supported me or pushed my ideas forward are the ones who have enabled me to move on from Harvard.

In a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, I sat with my friend and laughed as I finally used chopsticks to transfer dumplings onto my plate. She taught me that, too. I hope to take that metaphorical dumpling away with me on my journey to my new home, its warm contents accumulating in my stomach like the satisfaction of knowing that these people and this place will not let me fall.

Alina Voronov ’10, a Crimson arts writer, is a government concentrator in Cabot House.

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