You, Halved Too

Changing who you are after coming to Harvard—but into who, into what?

Bleeding Crimson

You see yourself in the patina that oozes over everything Harvard touches—a funhouse reflection of you, dipped in oil color. The you in this image drips, is smudged, wiped off on the sides of your jeans. It took you three hours and 15 minutes of retail work to pay for them, but as you run your hands down the familiar stitching, the feeling isn’t the same anymore. The reminders of your 30 hour work weeks at 16 years old aren’t as surface-level. Harvard’s name numbs the association, like a painkiller to assuage the past toiling you endured in order to be graced with the ability to exhale its name on the daily. Your fingers trail down the cross-stitches that could’ve been memory lane, but these jeans are now merely a palette to muddy your reflection on, the smell of fresh paint swirling around the stains—but that might just be the drugs kicking in. Placebo or not, the feeling’s kicking in, and you’re wondering whether it’s the denim you can’t feel anymore or your hands.

There is a you buried under this oil sheen, but there is also you that is you lost in the patina, dripping crimson, capitalizing everything you touch. Which one, however, is the real distortion?

Being accepted to Harvard was an incredible feat for every student. Although a wide set of commitments to extracurriculars and academics spread you out thin, the balance was taut, and you came to believe that the foundation of you was laid pretty sturdily for what was to come. However, in the short time you’ve spent at school, you’ve learned to approach things differently. The interactions now are weighted with the pause of social capital, the heaviness of whether a conversation is dotted with friendship or other intentions whereas interactions at home were familiar and required no extra thought. Competition culture here clutches you by the throat almost immediately. Learning how to navigate this school while maintaining the semblance of the you from home can be an Sisyphean feat. The ball may drop, roll onto you. You may be split in two.

The cognitive dissonance of having to shore up two identities is jarring. Many people back home can’t relate to the experiences you’ve had or the opportunities you’ve been afforded; even the way you speak has to be moderated now, trimmed of obscure terminology and an endless list of acronyms for fear of an inability to communicate or the mere reality of sounding pretentious. The “emotional whiplash”, as it were, of having to juggle both of these versions of yourself can take its toll. Students, especially from low-income and/or first generation backgrounds, suffer from this duality, as the difference between Harvard and home is most stark.

However, it is unfair to say that coming to Harvard necessitates splitting one’s self in two. For many, coming here was the expected next step. They never had to worry about the changes that they would experience when they came to Harvard. Their existences have been, to a degree, molded in the image of this lifestyle: having the luxury of having a guide throughout the college process, especially with prior knowledge of the Ivy league experience, helps foster the traits this environment needs from a very young age. Sacrificing a part of their persona was never something they had to consider.

And yet, despite the fact that some escape this burden, the question remains, heavy and ever-present: Do we chose one version of ourselves over the other? Do we give in to the idea of Harvard that others expect us to embody, that we may even expect ourselves to embody—and lose a part of old selves along the way?

Do we have to halve ourselves?

For me, the struggle is not with halving—it is with merging. Half of me is bricks trellised in ivy and opportunity, and the other is bared, raw, weather-worn—a city of bricks that refuses to give credence to the decades it suffered at the hands of opportunists. I should not have to sacrifice one half of me for another for the facade to stand tall, and neither should anyone else.

This experience may be jolting—a coat of crimson blurring the changes between you over the years. Yet, one half of you does not have to crumble under the weight of the other. Sometimes the beauty hidden within this “transformative experience” we’re all expected to have is watching these two halves snake around each other like old lovers until these two halves become a whole, a chimera birthed to the world on commencement.

Jessenia N. Class ’20 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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