I probably would have been a lot happier at Princeton freshman year. Maybe that's why I transferred there after my first year here. Well, actually I told Princeton I would be coming but never told Harvard to count me out.
I called home from Europe the summer after freshman year and told my parents to pay the bill. I had reconsidered, I told myself, and determined that staying at Harvard was the right move. I reasoned that freshman year really hadn't been so bad. Second semester had been better than first, and I really didn't want to start learning a new system. I also told myself that if Harvard had problems, I should stay and help initiate changes. Most of what I told myself, especially the latter part, was just a bunch of crap. I had chickened out, and I knew it.
I can't express strongly enough what a smart move it was to stay here I'm extremely satisfied with my Harvard experience, and I feel complete here. I'll be entering my senior year in the fall and will be a generous alumnus after graduating (I have to make sure my kids get in, you know.) In fact I'm one of Harvard's biggest advocates. It probably seems strange for the guy who once nearly transferred out to be convincing high school seniors to come, but I honestly feel anyone would do well here.
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In the time since, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what was wrong that first year. Was it me, Harvard, or college in general? When I applied to transfer to Princeton, I blamed it all on Harvard. I revived the myth that many love to tell--that Harvard undergraduate education is poor and that the professors here don't care about the students. I always knew that was a lie, but I had to blame it on something. In fact, the undergraduate education here is terrific, and as some of my friends could tell you, I know the administration and faculty here quite well.
I now suspect the problem was a bit of everything, but I have to take most of the blame myself. The brunt of the problem lay with me.
I was obsessed most of my first year with doing well. I didn't just want to get 'A's; I wanted the highest mark in each of my courses. It worked. In both math and chemistry, I got the highest grade of all 350 or so students in each class. I never did any of the fun things, or had any of the wild times that you may be reading about in other essays in this issue. Why was I working so hard? Why didn't I go to parties or just hang out? Why would I tell my friends Friday night after Friday night that I had to study? Why did I tell one of the most beautiful women in my class that I couldn't go see the movie Superman with her because I had to study (probably for the test next month or something ridiculous like that)? Maybe I wanted to show everyone I could do it. Maybe I needed to prove that the admission office hadn't made a mistake by letting me in. Who knows why?
All I know is that I didn't do it again. I didn't repeat my academic stardom either of the next two years, and I doubt I will this year. Sophomore and junior years have been terrific. I'm much happier getting average grades, going out a normal amount of times, and spending a lot of time talking and doing things with friends. It's important to learn a lot from your classes but also to learn from your friends and extracurriculars. In short, I love Harvard now. I'm happy here. Granted, it took awhile, but parents say freshman year is a learning experience, and it certainly was for me. While some were learning to study and others were learning to be independent, I was learning to be happy--happy with things a lot more important than the highest grade. Friends and having a wide variety of experiences have been much more fulfilling than 97 percents in Chemistry 5. It seems trite to say that the people here are really terrific. But I sincerely believe they're the nicest group of people I've ever gone to school with and the best group of friends I've ever had.
If I ask my parents to describe my freshman year to you, they would likely tell of the bad times I had. While I admit that I did complain a lot, and that I genuinely wanted to leave for much for the year, for some reason only the fun and funny times come out when I discuss the year.
The hardest part of the whole year was learning to pronounce and spell my roommate Mark Csweyrwjhergj's, I mean, Mark Csikszentmihalyi's last name.
My Harvard career began on my birthday. It was a bit depressing to have school begin that day. What if you had a birthday and nobody knew? That's at least how I felt. But my roommates and hallmates had a little party for me. I think we knew each other's names by them (but I'm sure I still didn't know how to spell Mark's last name.) That makes it sound like my roommates and I got along very well. Not so. But we are good friends now, despite some turbulent beginnings.
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If you had asked Richard Shuman where I was planning to go to college, he would have told you Brown. Richard and I had forged a friendship in introductory Biology there. We both had gotten into Brown early action and spent the weekend together when Brown invited up all of its early admits. We both had a great time there that weekend and promised each other we would come to Brown. Maybe we'd be roommates. We both admitted to applying to Harvard but told each other we weren't going to go, even if we were accepted. The next time we saw each other it was freshman week. And we were both in the Union. Harvard's Union.
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Only one of the 93 graduates of my high school came to Harvard with me, but surprisingly, I knew quite a few of my classmates by the time September rolled around. I had met one of my other roommates, Ghary, and several other classmates at the Harvard model U.N. my senior year. I spent the summer after high school in Israel and met four of my future classmates there.