What House are you in? It’s a standard question that receives a perfunctory, reflexive response from the average Harvard student. “I’m in Lowell,” one person might say. “Currier,” might be another typical reply. Usually these answers require one to three words, with only twelve shades of variation.
Yet I’ve noticed that many of my friends and I tend to stray from those dozen conventional responses when asked that most basic of Harvard queries. “I’m in Leverett, but I basically live in Kirkland,” one of my good friends always says. Another told me that despite his residency in Adams, he listed Kirkland as his desired house in his senior survey.
One of my roommates and I share our usual answer: “Kirkland—sort of. But I essentially live in the Loeb,” she and I tell people. We always joke that although technically we have been assigned rooms in Kirkland House the past three years, we spend a great majority of our time at the Loeb Drama Center working on productions for the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club—and we might as well call the Loeb our home.
As a result, we have both been involved in the Kirkland community only marginally. By no fault of Kirkland’s, I doubt more than three tutors know me by name and I can’t say I truly cared whether or not we won the Straus cup. Kirkland has an undeniably energetic House atmosphere and one that, in retrospect, it might have been nice to engage with more fully, but I nevertheless found the on-campus home I needed elsewhere.
I feel this is a sentiment shared by many students who couldn’t name their HoCo members or have never attended a House opening ceremony. Admittedly, the housing system is one of the things that drew me to Harvard; I loved the idea of this built-in community that stays with you for years to come. However, when I actually got to campus I slowly realized that participation in House life just wasn’t that appealing to me personally.
Instead I immersed myself in the world of Harvard theater. I’ve appreciated and enjoyed living in Kirkland, and on my senior survey I did list the House as my top choice. For me, though, the theater community was perfect—and it was enough.
This sense of community will be the thing I’ll miss most about Harvard. I’ll keep in touch with my closest friends, but it’s not the same for the communities we build here. You can’t recreate the feeling of belonging you get walking across the Yard and saying hi to the numerous acquaintances who you met at some extracurricular function. I always loved going to theater-related classes during shopping week and seeing rooms filled with familiar faces. Even if those faces didn’t belong to those in my immediate social circle, it was comforting to notice them and be among those with passions similar to mine.
Out in the “real world,” I’m sure people with equally matched interests will similarly surround me. There’s a freedom about this place, though, that allows these vibrant communities to thrive in a manner they can’t in a more professional setting. We can experiment and fail and challenge each other in ways that are simply unfeasible when money becomes a factor. The American Repertory Theater must plan their seasons with an eye to profit; the HRDC can perform a play with more objectionable content than a Bertolucci film and pay no attention to audience sizes. The experience is what matters, and it is participation in these experiences that compel a random group of people to form a true kinship.
Most Harvard students contribute to multiple communities of some sort. Our mutual experiences at this turbulent and intense place make it nearly impossible not to feel a sense of belonging in some way or another. I never shared in enough Kirkland experiences to become a genuine part of that community, but I did find my own affiliation elsewhere.
Truly, the best thing to do on this campus is to contribute—to find the group that feels like the right fit and engage with the people around you. These communities—whether your House or not—are what make Harvard feel like home. They’re the reason that I think years from now, when I encounter fellow alumni and they ask the age-old question, I’ll be more than happy to tell them that during my four years at Harvard, I lived in Kirkland—sort of.
Ali R. Leskowitz ’11, a Crimson staff writer, is an English concentrator in Kirkland House.