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On a miserably cold January night in the throes of reading period at three in the morning. I was launched over a terminally faults portable typewriter, back wrenched in exhaustion, force me my fingers to tap out that last long term paper. I could have been any Harvard undergraduate by that description. I was going through a me of passage, that final but of creative torture, left until the last minute. When the only thing that keeps you going is the thought that at least next week's exams won't require a Smith Corona or footnotes. I could have been John Q Doe '49 or Jane Smith '68 or probably even Kimberly Jones '94.
Only I was Nancy I Bauer '82, and I was working in the vortex that is the Crimson's production shop, overhearing the latest reports on the American hostages Iran via the newspaper's excise for a black and white TV. Three friends were checking the dispatches clicking over the old Associated Press wire machine in the sky we call the newsroom. They roused professors in the middle of the night, just in case. A paste up that went up on the production hay as the day dawned. In hours, it was filled with typeset copy and headlines and then the sky turned black again.
Most undergraduates probably slept that night. Exam period was to begin the following morning; and if the term paper wasn't done by then, well, either in was too late or the section leader would give you and extension until Friday. But I stayed at the Crimson with a handful of equally foolish editors and at 7 a.m. a sophomore somehow figured out how to run the massive Goss Community press without the aid of our paid, pro- fessional employee. I grabbed a couple thousand "Extras" and drove off in a buff-colored VW Rabbit to the Science Center, where nobody knew yet that the release of the hostages had been negotiated (so the Crimson was undeniably important.) I was so tired that I slammed the car door against my face; and I ran-ran fast-on legs that were tingling with the senselessness of fatigue, and, knowing that I had an exam in 24 hours in a course. I barely remembered I had taken, blood trickling down my very bruised cheek, I flung our single sheets of newsprint, right and left, and yelled. "The hostages are free! The hostages are free!" And then I went home and collapsed.
If one can rely on hindsight so immediately, this was the most fulfilling experience of my four years at Harvard.
It could not have occurred anywhere else, the month of January being what it is here, it took place thanks to the particular state of affairs between this country and Iran in the first few days of a new decade; I was there because my comp at the Crimson had gotten me interested in journalism. To be true, it could never happen again.
It is difficult at this juncture, though, to distill that series of events in a more precise fashion-to figure out just how much of it had to do with the idiosyncrasies of this University, with the fact that it tool place in 1980, and with my own personality. My guess is that although a seasoned alum might be able to discern what was characteristically Harvard (or, I suppose, Radcliffe) about what I did from January 19th to the 21st, 1980, my classmates would be best at imagining how I felt at the time. Even those who weren't Crimson editors could, in a word, relate.
Such a hazy feeling of empathy will permeate tomorrow's Commencement activities. Aside from the feat of having recently completed academic requirements, it is just about the only thing that will produce a Class of '82 from a bunch of graduating seniors. No doubt, the feeling will resurface in the years to come, when one classmate or another finds himself a great celebrity. Chances are that this person, and others who will come to stand out, will never have spoken a personal word to the majority of those he went to college with. Yet, his classmates will feel a comradely that stems form having spent a few years in the same general area during the same general time-under the same general condition.
That emotion is now being conjured up by the 52 buzzwords that adorn the back of the official Class of '82 T-Shirts. Almost without a doubt, the vast majority of class members recognize most of the "vintage ingredients" that supposedly went into the making of the 1982 Harvard Radcliffe graduate. And surely, not a few of this year's seniors will was sentimental at the thought of "Ec 10, Union food, Where's Boston Boston?" and other memory evokes. The simple truth, however, is that the formative experiences for most of us will have nothing to do with these least common denominators A; Harvard at least from 1978 until 1982, most undergraduate's lives were drastically different from those of their peers. And most undergraduates were profoundly alone.
This is not to say that the majority were lonely although I'm sure a good many were. Rather the solitude that characterized a Harvard "Radcliffe" education for the past four years is a result of two factors: an unlimited number of potential experiences-academic, extracurricular and otherwise-and a widespread lack of official restraints on, guidance for, or concern about that freedom.
Theoretically, the variety of options available to our class was a good thing, and in a number of ways. For starters, it allowed individuals of varying abilities and interests to pursue their particular goals rigorously. Witness my late night adventure at the Crimson, something that could never have taken place a few decades ago. When Radcliffe women, housed a good half-mile form Plympton St. were governed by parietals and could not become editors on what was then an all male student newspaper.
But, on the other hand, I'd venture that this freedom was confusing to a number of my classmates, and certainly to myself. As satisfying as my three and a half year stint on the Crimson was for example. I cannot help wondering what it might have been like had I spent more time in Winthrop House. This kind of retrospective uncertainty, though, seems unavoidable and healthy I am glad no one told me what to do, and if there are any regrets about the number of hours I spent putting out this rag, they pale in comparison to the satisfaction obtained both from giving one thing my best shot and from knowing that I survived my first real test of options.
And yet, there is another type of confusion about choices that I believe most of my classmates experienced in varying degrees, and that was not so predictable or beneficial. If parietals have gladly gone the way of bouffant hair dos, it is a shame that a more constructive type of guidance also seems to have disappeared town this campus-if it ever was here. While academic and personal counseling-and "Radcliffe," for the matter-are ostensibly available, the guidance mechanism, and its propagators seem deeply out of touch with the community they purport to serve. Consequently, many undergraduates make mistakes early on as a result of not knowing how to make Harvard work, how to get this big institution to provide you with the education and lifestyle that you are paying for. Poor advising does not teach anyone a lesson. It imparts to the student nothing but unnecessary pain.
The upshot of all of this is that those of tomorrow's graduates who are dissatisfied, to whatever extent, with their time here do not know whether extent, with their time here do not know whether to blame themselves for making bad decisions or the University for letting them do so. I suspect that while most would fault Harvard publicly, they secretly perceive themselves as having taller short of the mark. This is the logical result of having made a lot of decisions by oneself.
To some extent, the death of guidance here which, by the way, appears mostly in the form of lack of support and encouragement (does anyone ever receive a notice that he made Dean's Last?)-is the natural result of the easing of outdated restrictions. But it is also symptomatic of the University's general reluctance to get involved in anything, at any level, that won't pump up its already over inflated chest. For instance, my four years here have seen one sector or another of this University refuse to do anything positive about or to take a meaningful stand on apartheid in South America, explicit rights for gay undergraduates, and a pervasive lack of American History courses.
Concurrently, economic pressure have encouraged young people around the nation to channel their career interests during years that were supposed to be reserved for "liberal arts" education. Harvard's ostensible answer to that squeeze produces only faceless programs like the Core Curriculum. On a personal travel, the University has done nothing to counteract student's increasing introspection, which manifests itself in cutthroat pre-professionalism and general political apathy of the past several years. By example, Harvard has encouraged selfishness.
Paradoxically, then, members of my class share, more than anything else, the experience of having been very much by themselves in shaping their personal experiences here. Even the needless pain that some of us endured as the result of too much begin neglect also binds us together. No one, not one person who will don cap and gown tomorrow, is graduating from this University naive. Our task now is to channel that savvy in such a way as to avoid the temptation of haughtiness, bitterness, or cynicism. In 1982 as in 1949, 1968 and probably 1994, a Harvard degree is still as much of a responsibility as an achievement.
Ah, you say, she's drifting preachy. Perhaps; but it is because I see all to clearly my own temptation towards cynicism and self-interest. As an antidote, I find myself in these last few days in Cambridge trying to remember the right choices that went into my four years here a fascinating class on American architecture, dozens of Crimsons escapades, sitting in a burnt orange Gran Torino in the middle of Mattapan at three in the morning drinking Budweiser beer out of bar bottles with two non-Harvard buddies from 'Milton. That last memory may not seem very educational, productive, or frankly, important. But it is mine. It is part of what I alone chose to do here-it is part of the "82" after my name that represents both the path I took and the challenges I now face.
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