Braving Harvard's Storms
When the Class of 2012 first arrived at Harvard on September 6, 2008, a severe rainstorm forced the new freshmen to evacuate Harvard Yard. Our proctors gathered two first-years from every dormitory and brought us to our Ark, the Science Center. The Greenhouse Café was opened for free food. Some students slept on cots in the Malkin Athletic Center. I called a friend from my high school orchestra at 1 a.m., a junior in Quincy House at the time, who graciously hosted me for the night. As a result, I missed the opportunity to play poker with President Faust, who had joined the class for our adventures in the Science Center that evening.
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how bizarre the events of move-in day were. But I did have one thought, which was: This event is going to be mentioned in every graduation speech for our class. (As of writing this piece, I await the accuracy of my prediction.)
The metaphor would be perfect. We came to Harvard as naïve freshmen, anticipating four years of intellectual and personal growth. But there would be mistakes, the proverbial storms. Some students would receive A-minuses for the first time. We would all struggle to comp a publication, find blockmates, pick a concentration, and learn what Harvard means, exactly, by comp, blockmates, and concentration. We would eat Harvard University Dining Services. But ultimately, we would learn from these errors; the storm would present obstacles, but nothing that 1,600 enterprising students and a few Alka-Seltzers couldn’t conquer. By senior year, the rain would subside. We would overcome any challenge that came our way. As we recognized the flawless logical coherence of this metaphor, we might even shed a tear, realizing just how much we grew during our undergraduate years.
But the metaphor didn’t quite hold water. In an eerie moment of déjà vu, we were treated to another storm during move-in day our senior year, this time Tropical Storm Irene. From a meteorological perspective, Irene was a bit of a tease, but she still caused flight cancelations and countless headaches. Sure, Irene’s descent upon Cambridge signified that we seniors had come full circle, our years bookended by strange tempests. But it also meant the storm hadn’t exactly passed. Perhaps we were still messing up, even as seniors.
I experienced storms throughout college. One of the first was at the Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 10, 2008, during Freshman Week. Being a local, I had snagged four tickets to the game at Fenway and took three of my new roommates, eager to welcome them to Boston. Though it wasn’t raining at Fenway, the game was its own storm of sorts. When it went to extra innings, I gently insisted that we stay. Little did I know it would drag on for 14 innings. My New Yorker roommate, a Yankees fan, actually started rooting for the Red Sox just so the game would end. It finally did, just after 1 a.m. The Red Sox lost. I had desperately wanted to show my roommates how great Boston was, how great the Red Sox were. But they showed any sign of caring only after we realized the T had already closed.
There have been other storms. For example, I did not get Jeremy Lin’s autograph when he was a senior here. That was dumb. To this day, another mistake has been telling non-Harvard people that I major in social studies. They immediately quiz me on state capitals and the difference between a peninsula and a cape.
If I could redo Harvard, I would study abroad and go to the Schlesinger Library just to browse. I would borrow the dog that is on loan at the Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library. I would take courses on the history of the Arab world or on the science of cooking. As a friend once observed, Harvard’s shopping week heightens the opportunity costs of choosing any one class. But it’s not just courses: Doing one activity over another, sleeping for eight hours a night instead of six or seven, or procrastinating in our common rooms means sacrificing something else, some of Harvard’s other unparalleled resources. Sure, we all messed up this balance somewhere along the way. But from those mistakes we grew as well, learned, and cultivated our friendships.
During the activities fair of my freshman year, a staff person of the Harvard Alumni Association handed me a printed list of things to do before I graduated. I have kept HAA’s list throughout college, using it as an informal guide for my time here. I crossed many things off—rowing intramural crew, seeing the Gutenberg Bible in Widener, and watching the midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Harvard Square cinema. (Horror is an understatement.) But there are many things I regret missing, such as stargazing at the Harvard Observatory, visiting all of Harvard’s museums, and going on a weekend trip with the Outing Club.
These lost opportunities are mini-tempests, why the storm has not passed. We graduate despite the fact that there is so much left to do at Harvard, even though we still make mistakes. But our learning and growing doesn’t have to end now. For as many resources as Harvard has condensed into one campus, there is so much more that the world will offer us. Because we have missed out on great opportunities here, we will better take advantage of what is outside.
That will be difficult. But then again, we’ve braved scarier storms before.
Elizabeth C. Bloom ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House.