I arrived at Harvard a wide-eyed freshman with no idea what to expect. I was constantly amazed by everything around me. There were always frozen yogurt and chickwiches on demand in Annenberg? I could study in a library with a Gutenberg bible? Anything I did resulted in a free t-shirt?
Hailing from the Midwest, the only people I knew at Harvard before moving in were those whom I had met during Prefrosh Weekend (sure to be long-lasting friends, of course) and other students from Illinois whom I had met before school (everyone was interested in introducing me to their aunt’s coworker’s sister’s step-son’s best friend’s neighbor who was also going to Harvard). I quickly latched onto my roommates: Living with five other girls was a fun, never-ending slumber party that I—who only had two brothers—absolutely loved. We were complete greenhorns in everything we did, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying every second of it. We often stayed in the dining hall from brunch through dinner on Sundays, telling stories about our weeks and laughing the entire time. The entire campus was our oyster.
One night at a party, one of my roommates and I walked past two senior girls pointing at freshmen and talking about them. “They get worse and worse every year,” we heard one girl say, as the freshmen started dancing. At that point, my roommate and I promised ourselves never to be so jaded—as we simultaneously compared our outfits to the other girls’ to make sure we weren’t as egregiously out of place. What had happened to these two seniors to make them so unhappy that not only were they refusing to get a little bit softer now during “Shout” on the dance floor, but they also felt the need to waste their time criticizing girls who were three years younger than they and surely meant them no harm?
Fast-forward to the beginning of my senior year. After our closest group of male friends graduated, my friends and I decided that this year would be the year of the “Gurlparty.” We might not have any Y chromosomes in the mix, but we would make our own fun, even if it was the last thing we did! After a few weeks of forcing ourselves to stay out late and party like freshmen, though, we suddenly found ourselves wanting to go to sleep on Friday nights, watching movies instead of going to bars (ironic, since we were all legal by now). With e-recruiting season affecting most of us, we soon became the “Galparty”—suits and practice interviews replaced our theme-party costumes and thrilling adventures. It was official: We were both boring and bored. Episodes of “Law & Order: SVU” instantly streaming on Netflix provided a much-needed respite from a college scene that we had officially worn out.
Post-spring break, though, something changed. We started going out four nights a week (sorry, parents—at least I handed my thesis in!). Our meals in the dining halls got longer and longer. We even made some new friends. With college’s expiration date constantly thrust into my line of sight via impending deadlines related to graduation and countless emails counting down the days until May 26, I suddenly felt like I lacked the time to do everything I wanted. When was I going to go to the Chihuly exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts? Would it ever stop raining enough for me to be able to jump off the Weeks Footbridge? I realized that I had come nowhere near to exhausting the options of things to do at Harvard. By thinking that I was obsolete and needed to move onto the next stage of life, I had deprived myself of the chance to see everything that was still fresh and exciting around me.
Next year, I will once again be a complete newbie—tasks like finding an apartment and figuring out how to invest my money are extraordinarily daunting. Yet I know that I will figure them out and eventually settle into adult life. What I will take away from my time at Harvard, though, is that there is no reason to ever stop being a novice. Experience is, in many ways, a helpful tool to get us through life, but curiosity and amazement make living much more enjoyable. After a year feeling like an old, crotchety grandma, I am ready to spend the rest of my life as a freshman.
Alix M. Olian ’11, a former Crimson editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House.