That Problem Set Doesn't Really Matter Much

My friend Marty and I dug through his bathroom cabinet in Grays East frantically looking for detergent, or a bottle of Windex, or even a non-dairy whipped topping. Anything that contained an organic compound with a chemical structure we could identify.

It was 4 a.m. Thursday night. The problem set was due in a few hours, and the final task was a stupid assignment meant to teach us the importance of organic compounds in our daily life. As if it really matters that Crest is nothing but sodium fluoride and hence, not organic.

But so it goes if you're a nervous first-year eager to polish up your GPA. So we scrambled through the bathroom crud for another 45 minutes, finished the assignment and trudged over to the Science Center to hand it in.

Stumbling back to our respective rooms that warm early morning, we were both exhausted and a little cranky. But mostly we were upset. Not that for the fourth night in a row, we were only going to get two hours of sleep, but because this ordeal we had just endured seemed to define our first year at Harvard. Finishing that problem set--and our nine months in Cambridge--was a real pain in the ass.

All Marty and I talked about as we were coming back from the Science Center was how excited we were to leave Harvard. How much we wanted the summer. How much we wanted to be free.

Which is not to say I hadn't enjoyed my first year. For me it meant falling in love with Pinocchio's pizza, Bright Hockey Center, WZLX and many, many now-forgotten girls (sorry, women). And I had met the standard cast of kooks, oddballs and freaks that make Harvard interesting.

But for the most part my first year meant long hours alone with loads of books and liters of Mountain Dew.

By November, I had chained myself to my worn-down desk in Matthews. By February I had moved into Lamont library, and by May I was eager (actually, drooling) to be rid of the Yard, the Square and, most of all, New England.

And, sure enough, after my last final that spring, I sprinted from last final as fast as I could, giddier than Pee-Wee Herman at an all-day peep show.

Looking back, I realize that the reason my first year seemed so drawn out and tiring was because I never gave myself the freedom toenjoy it. I kept myself tied down--emotionally andphilosophically--to the way I had aRTLÄs donethings, the way I wanted to keep them.

Before I got to Harvard, my older brotherwarned me about all the students who would bragthat they never cracked open a book in high schooland that at Harvard, they only cracked open beers.They would boast of their proficiency at speedquarters and their ability to write papers twominutes before they are due. Don't believe a wordof it, he instructed me.

Even if they can write a seven-page paper inunder two hours while funneling Milwaukee's bestand smoking a refer, you can't, he said. In fact,no one can. No matter what they say. And they'llsay a lot, my brother assured me.

The only person who should tell you how muchwork to do is yourself, he said. Do what'scomfortable, whatever works. Sort of a"Birkenstocks over wingtips" philosophy.

That was both good and bad advice. Good,because it's right. You should listen to whatother students have to say about classes, but onlyinsofar as it's both useful and believable. Justbecause Joe Frat Boy-Wannabe says the only thinghe worries about is getting more beer, doesn'tmean you should follow him or even believe him.

Deep down, Joe Frat Boy is just as neurotic andsuccess-driven as the rest of us. He's eitherhiding it, or, as is more often the case, he'srepressing it.