YES, I could have written about learning to write papers the night before they're due or about recounting the trauma of an aunt's funeral--for the third or fourth time--the night before a midterm. I could even have written about doing some good work and being happy with it. All these things are part of just about everyone's undergraduate career here, and all of them do matter.
In large unacknowledged part, though, Harvard has to do with manners, learning how to order in a really good restaurant even if you don't have much money very often, learning how people are supposed to disagree. It's true what people say about learning as much outside the classroom as inside. And everyone, even those who come primarily to study in Science Center sub-basements, look at Harvard as a machine for laying on polish.
The compound of choice around here is diversity, and it's everywhere. Harvard doesn't take a new-math approach to its primary lesson: you learn because you have to learn. When your lab partner is a water-skiing champion, and the guy you eat lunch with happens to be the son of a former governor of some western state, and when things like this happen all the time, you cannot help but learn to accomodate diversity. Fifteen minutes ago I learned that Mel Torme wrote The Christmas Song. Did you know that Mel Torme wrote The Christmas Song? Broadening like this is called intellectual growth, and it almost has to happen here.
So great, in fact, is the toleration required that grotesque aberrations of thought and behavior are routinely met with a shrug and a weary smile that proclaims your comfort: "Ah, diversity," your smile says as you pass the Lesbian Coffee House in the Dunster JCR. This, combined with a few other manners assimilated from wealthy classmates passes for sophistication around here and snobbery just about everywhere else. But the smile and the shrug really have to do with ignorance: an inability to distinguish what's distinctive and important.
I've known that definition of ignorance since I arrived freshman year, the Jesuits who trained me spelled it out pretty clearly. But I had too much to learn to think about what I already knew. Now I'm a senior with only a few minutes left in which to encapsulate four Harvard years. And now I'm giving thought to things I used to know. That's some of what I've learned here.