The Should-Haves

I’m no Adam B. Wheeler. I’ve never written a book, I don’t have a 4.00, and I didn’t win a Hoopes prize junior year. I’ve never been invited to lecture on anything, anywhere, nor can I speak five languages. In fact, my grade point average is far from stellar, I can’t name an academic prize I was even considered for, and other than a few French phrases I pull out mostly for comedic value, I stick to my native tongue. Like I said, I’m no Wheeler. To be fair, though, neither is he.

Still, I think I can understand why Wheeler did it, why he fabricated an academic history worthy of a university president. Even though his resume has significantly more padding than most, one can imagine that there are a few resumes floating out there among the Harvard senior class that do look quite similar to Wheeler’s work of art. As we have been told ad nauseum, the students here at Harvard are incredible and have the credentials to prove it—prizes, published works, and scholarships out the wazoo. But I am not one of those students, and neither was Wheeler. And with Commencement upon me, I am starting to wonder if I should have tried harder to be one—applied myself more in the classroom, stayed in Lamont longer, and maybe even given up Tequila Tuesdays.

Looking over old syllabi, I find readings I wish I had done, classes I wish I had gone to, professors I wish I had gotten to know. A part of me thinks, “Well, if these things really were important to me, I would have done them! Priorities are revealed in actions.” But I would be hard pressed to argue that watching the same episode of Family Guy three times was more important or a better use of my time than going to a molecular and cellular biology lecture. The next time around, be it in graduate school or the workplace, I will make more of a conscious effort to choose hard work over Hulu.

As almost-graduates, we have been told to ignore our regrets. What’s done is done! You made it through! That’s an accomplishment in itself! That’s true, and graduating from Harvard in one piece is an important achievement. But the regrets that we have now, on the eve of our entrance into the real world, should not be completely cast aside. They give us insight into ourselves—what we value and why—and can prove instructive in the years ahead.

Yet, even though regret does have its purpose, it is important not to dwell on it. Spending too much time thinking of the could-haves, would-haves, should-haves can cloud the real progress one has made. Overall, I, along with the vast majority of my classmates, am proud of the time I have spent here, enamored with the friends I have made, and warmed by the memories of Harvard I will always carry. But I don’t feel guilty for harboring a few regrets, because there is a lot to learn from them. And I think Adam Wheeler, though he is probably facing a whole different set of regrets right now, would agree.

Jamison A. Hill ’10, chair emeritus of Fifteen Minutes magazine, is a history and literature concentrator in Eliot House.

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