The Week Gets Weaker

How to Survive Your First Week in the Yard

In more of a pronouncement than an announcement, the cover of the brochure you recently received from the Freshman Dean's Office states--in a suitably elegant typeface--"Freshman Week 1980." Like Campaign '80 and other inevitable shibboleths, there's more nitty gritty to it than meets the awestruck eye. And, if you open the brochure, you will find--in a much less attractive typeface--a barrage of planned activities, required activities, passive activities, massive activities, UPPERCASE LETTERING FOR IMPORTANT ACTIVITIES, and other activities.

Those of you in the apocalyptic Class of '84 who expect to ride into Harvard on a wave of freedom may find yourselves drenched. You will be horses ridden by jocular jockeys, anxious to introduce you to Life at Harvard. You will find yourself in a race with 1600 other eager ponies, most of whom will fashion fabulous pretenses designed as armor for insecurity. The key to Freshman Week, then, is not to let the blinders keep you from seeing straight.

What does this all mean? Well, it means there are people here waiting for you, waiting with a passion--for what is not exactly clear. Now is the time to get paranoid, so that when you get here, you are so numb from paranoia that you can be yourself. Have some jokes prepared--popular ones this year are likely to be, "Hey, did you hear Julius Caesar's in our class?" or, "Hey, I just saw a piece of graffiti saying `Napoleon Bonaparte '84.'" Don't bother memorizing your SAT score; just tell anyone rude enough to ask that you got straight 800s. That'll show 'em.

Sociologists can cackle all they want, but they find it hard to describe the resulting community when a Harvard class of bright, ambitious, largely overconfident but remarkably unstable achievers gathers in a historic setting to acclimatize themselves to the intangible but nonetheless real mystique of the University. To quote one woman who reflected on her Freshman Week last autumn: "How can they expect me to be honest, when everyone is so incredible?" Remember: chances are you're every bit as incredible as anyone else here, but don't let that assumption develop into overweening arrogance. The best approach is to play the game without sacrificing substance for style. It's probably healthy to dip into the fray, rather than pretend to rise well above it by hanging out with those people you knew before you came here.

Yes, you will make other friends in your four years in Cambridge, and no, it's not worth it to push unwanted friendships. Try to sow the seeds for a few close relationships, but don't declare yourself a social misfit if you don't fall in love immediately. Don't kid yourself that you have to soak up the week for its intrinsic significance; if you're bored of something, walk away--except the required stuff. Relax, test the waters, acquire a taste for coffee and sherry.


Saturday, September 6

7 a.m. Dorms ready for occupancy, says the brochure; dorms open, says the connoisseur. Arrive ready for occupancy, invasion and incursion at 6:30 a.m. Grab the keys to the entryway and room. Run (repeat: run) upstairs, quickly unlock the door, and throw your belongings on the bed of the suite's only single. Be sure to be nonchalant, however, when your roommate ambles in ten minutes later. You'll be spending a lot of time with that person this year. Tell your first fib, something like, "Well, I got in at three in the morning and didn't have a place to stay, so I slept outside the dorm on my duffle bags, and that's why I got here at 6:30 a.m." The roommate will probably swallow your story, the week being young. Then again, you might want to bargain--offer your roommate the single for the first semester, in return for the single second semester. You know what they say about springtime....

9 a.m. Welcome lounge for parents at the Union, complete with coffee (an imaginative mixture of grit and Drano) and donuts (the hole being the best part). This is one scene to miss--you'll be eating at the Union quite a lot during the next few months, and there's still plenty of time to develop a "taste" for Harvard food.

10 a.m. to Noon Unpack and arrange belongings in your clothes in drawers and shut them before any parent can make a comment about what a nice collection of t-shirts you have or wonder aloud how their kid is ever going to live with a slob. Carefully extract the recommended summer reading from your suitcase and place the tomes on your shelf, affording them a prominent position. Now is the moment of truth: do you lie, telling your roommate you actually read all those books, or are you honest, saying you wouldn't be caught dead reading anything you don't absolutely have to? You decide.

Then, descend on Harvard Square to open a checking account. Try the NOW account option. Find out what NOW stands for, in the never ending pursuit of useless knowledge. Buy a frisbee and four Harvard t-shirts at the Coop. Purchase lunch at Elsies, (where John F. Kennedy '40 used to eat--you have a heritage to live up to now) and take it back to the steps of Widener, where you can eat your first meal at Harvard by flouting the rule that it's gauche to be reverent.

3-5 p.m. Reception for Third World parents and freshmen. Definitely worth a visit if you're a minority student; if not, put that frisbee to good use after you've donned your Harvard t-shirt.

4 p.m. Faculty discussion: "Liberal Education at Harvard." Delivered in Ishmaelian tones by Alan (tradition-minded master of Eliot House) Heimert. Don't try to impress everyone by asking a question. Check it out, but sit in the back just in case it doesn't suit your fancy. Don't bring notebooks--classes don't start for nine days.

5:30 p.m. Third World students picnic, followed later on by coffeehouse. By all means, attend if you're a minority student.

8-11 p.m. The Crimson Key sponsors a coffeehouse. The beer will be lukewarm, and coffee will probably not be served. Go for three minutes, and then head back for an ap-appointment with the professor: Professor James Beam. Ice and Dixie cups optional.

Sunday, September 7

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