Here Lies a Harvard Man
The brand only sticks for so long
Around campus, people like to joke about how difficult it is to drop the H-Bomb. The story goes that the minute we tell someone we go to Harvard (“Oh, Haaarvard” comes the re-enacted reply), it’s all that they can see in us; they think it describes perfectly who we are.
The irony is that while the rest of the world certainly does factor one’s level of education into their assessment of an individual, Harvard students take the gold medal when it comes to mapping out our identities based on the four years spent bounded by the ivy-covered, not-just-any-Ivy-League walls. We are the first to say that all we are, all that we can be, is now and forever determined by our Harvard education.
This has only grown clearer to me as I’ve watched my friends stumble through senior year recruitment, searching for jobs while mucking through a terrible combination of insecurity and hope. To clarify: Their insecurities are many, their source of hope just one. Griping ranges from teary-eyed realizations that two leadership positions were not enough—“why didn’t I pick three?” we wail—to wishing that GPAs were just a half a tenth of a digit higher; from angrily demanding from God why some fathers are chief executives and others deadbeats, to tittering that if only we were beautiful enough would we just marry rich! And then, it hangs in the air for a second before washing over us with ephemeral relief: “At least I go to Harvard.”
By ephemeral I mean that only after a few seconds do the insecurities come scurrying back. In reacting to our dependency on this single anchor of encouragement, we hem and haw about whether or not graduating from the world’s top academic institution is enough to allow us to make a living, as if any outsider looking in would nod politely at such modest conversation.
Suppose we were to entertain for a moment the idea that we won’t attain a certain level of success in our postgraduate lives. After having accessed the bank that is Harvard College; after licking our last drops of money, knowledge, and power; after making connections with and to the renowned; after all that, are we seriously to believe that we’ll end up in the dark throes of an alleyway without a penny to our name?
None of this is meant to indicate that a job is easy to attain or that recruiting isn’t a difficult process. I, too, have friends who graduated last May with a Harvard diploma and are still unemployed. But eventually, they will find a job; eventually, we will too. And until we do, we have mountains of resources at our fingertips that are inaccessible to the vast majority of the population.
A job, I hope you’re beginning to see, is not at stake here. There is something more significant about the fact that as fearful contemplations mist in the back of our minds to the point of putrefaction, we cling to that single line on our resumes that yells at the world that we attend glorious Harvard.
It amazes me that this is all that we would ever lay claim to. If you died today, do you truly believe that this would be your legacy? “Here lies Danielle Kim, a Harvard woman, a woman who was accepted into and attended Harvard.” Would that be it? Is that all I want the world to write of me?
As Harvard students, we often demand so many unnecessary qualities from ourselves, none of which are vital to the formation of a healthy identity. We distill our lives, along with our peers’, into quick calculations based on GPA, appearance, and delightfully superficial titles.
It’s time that we man up and make something of ourselves. Ask yourself the hard questions. Who are you? Who do you want to be? What wakes you up in the morning, and who makes you smile? It’s neither fair to ourselves nor to those who love us to forget that we are worth something apart from our affiliation with Harvard. We have to begin looking inward to form a sense of self.
I’m 22 years old. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know who’s taking the trip with me. I don’t even know where I’m going to get money for fuel. But I know that a set of wheels identifiable only by the stamp of Harvard’s name is only going to hold up for so long.
Danielle Kim ’12, a Crimson Design Chair, is an anthropology concentrator in Quincy House. Her column will now appear on occasional Thursdays.