There are too many ways to describe this place we’ve all somehow—by the grace of God, or Dean Fitzsimmons—wound up in. Harvard is diverse and exclusive, propelled by liberalism and tangled in tradition. Harvard provides an education that is illuminating in many ways, yet often leads to more questions than answers. Harvard is inspiring and stimulating, intellectually and emotionally. While it is usually a privilege to learn in this environment, it is sometimes a burden, because students feel that they must always, always do more, be better, and work harder. Harvard teaches us many things, but it doesn’t teach us how to be happy.
Harvard students have varying standards of success. Some value money, and dedicate their classes, extracurriculars, and time here to their quest for the Holy Grail—a job at Goldman Sachs. Others value social status; they constantly covet the next small envelope slipped under their door, and when the envelopes stop coming, the object of their desire becomes a tacit invitation to the elusive and ever-shrinking inner circle. Others measure success based on academic excellence or perfection. Most of us value some combination of all three. But few among us measure success by finding happiness in our daily lives.
On April 12, my grandfather, Fedor Kuritzkes, passed away peacefully in his home in suburban Pennsylvania. At his funeral, my father, uncles, aunt, and cousins partook in the age-old tradition of attempting to encapsulate his life in their brief eulogies, each of them under the morbidly comical time constraint of summarizing 87 years in five minutes.
My grandfather’s lifetime was not defined by the names on his resume or his academic standing. He did not attend an Ivy League college, and he humbly admitted that his grades were not good. As a pediatrician, he spoke only of his close relationships with his patients, never of his salary. His success was not measured by his social status, although he became a pillar of his community in Queens. He became a pillar in his community because his success was measured—by him and by the people who loved him—by the happiness he found in his own life, and the happiness he added to the lives of others.
My grandfather knew hardship. He was a Jew born in Chemnitz, Germany in 1929, and a de jure stateless person before he was school aged. He was in his apartment on Kristallnacht when Nazi thugs dragged his father out of his home and to Buchenwald. He and his family miraculously received visas to the United States in 1939, but they then had to assimilate to a new life in a new country where they didn’t speak the language, all the while coping with the loss of contact with their family members, friends, and neighbors, and later with the grief of knowing that everyone they left behind in their Jewish community in Germany had perished.
Harvard students, myself included, complain about a bad grade on a midterm as though it is the end of the world. My grandfather’s world fell apart before his young eyes but he rarely, if ever, complained about it. The only thing I remember him complaining about—in jest—was Heinz’ experiment with green ketchup back in the early 2000’s (sacrilege!). When I get upset about something as insignificant as my midterms, I try to think of my grandfather’s example, but I don’t always succeed. The never-ending drive for success that is synonymous with four years at Harvard is consuming.
After his stroke in 2014, as he deteriorated, my grandfather had the time to reflect on the life he and my grandmother built together. My grandfather looked at his wife, his four children, and his eight grandchildren, and confidently said he would not change a single thing about his life. He was a man without regrets. I wonder how many of us will leave Harvard prepared for such a simple life. A happy life. A life without regrets. We are used to striving for perfection, but we have not learned to see perfection in what we already have.
Anna M. Kuritzkes ’20, a Crimson editorial and news editor, lives in Thayer Hall.
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