What I’ve learned in my time at Harvard
As senior fall comes to a close, I find myself increasingly reflective on my four years at Harvard. Am I the person I want to be to others? How will I be remembered when I graduate? Are the people I am making time for the people who will still be in my life 10 years down the road? All of these questions are impossible to answer and somewhat cliché, but I nonetheless find myself trapped in endless nostalgia, already missing my college years as if they are already gone. As Eric T. Justin ’13 described in his column “Harvard’s Whiny One-Upmanship,’” sometimes we all become too “busy” or too self-absorbed to appreciate and enjoy arguably one of the most carefree times of our lives, where we are free to pursue any academic interest and where all our best friends live within walking distance. Our time here is finite, and each day is a new opportunity to start over and be the person we want our classmates to remember us as.
During my time here, I have learned not to get caught up in people and things that don’t make me happy. It has taken my three years plus a semester away from Harvard to realize what I really enjoy doing here and who I really enjoy seeing. During the first few years of college, after getting caught up with friends of convenience and resume-padding activities, we can find ourselves with a social group that doesn’t see all sides of us and a list of activities we are invested in yet not passionate about. I finally realized that if I don’t like how I feel around someone or I no longer have anything substantial to talk about with them, then I should focus my energy on other friends or getting to know classmates I haven’t met yet. If I don’t enjoy an activity that is supposedly going to help my future career, I quit. In viewing activities as stepping stones, we can sometimes lose sight of a completely different path that would make us more happy.
Another major flaw at Harvard is gossip: A frequent amount of dining hall conversations I sit down to consists of talking about hookups, potential hookups, past hookups, and things that happen at final clubs. Though this is college and mindless gossip comes with the territory, I’ve learned that everything comes out in the wash. I have felt weird and awful when things have gotten back about me that other people have said about me (whether true or not), and I have felt even more weird and awful when things have gotten back to other people that I said about them. The people I respect and admire most in my class are the people I have never heard say anything negative about anyone else.
One of the biggest mistakes that students make at Harvard is feeling like we are alone in our problems or sadness here. On the other hand, it is easy for all of us to forget that we aren’t the only ones with hectic lives. We make catch-ups with friends in color-coated blocks on our Google Calendars, or we tell people we are “just too busy—can we try for coffee in three weeks?” But we are all busy, and I firmly believe in making time for the people you care about. We are remembered by how we make other people feel, and if we make our friends and classmates feel unimportant or not worth enough to take up some of our time, they will remember that about us ten years down the road.
At the end of each semester, my roommate and I go to the top of the Science Center for a nighttime overview of the past few months and our goals for the next semester. The view from the top, where we have an aerial view of Annenberg, the bell towers, the Charles River, and the Boston skyline, provides the perspective to help us realize that all the things that stress us out on a daily basis here are insignificant in the grandeur of us getting to be here in the first place. Of course, every semester I have profound revelations on the rooftop (usually while under the influence of John Mayer), and every semester after, I usually repeat the same mistakes or fall into the same traps I did from the semester before. Though this moment of clarity is short lived, I finally feel like as long as I focus on the people and things that I have discovered make me happy, and as long as I take my responsibilities and not myself seriously, the rest is irrelevant.
Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.