News

Harvard Students Return to Changed Campus Covid Restrictions

News

Some Harvard Classes Start Spring Semester Online Due to Omicron Surge

News

Harvard’s Graduate Student Union Files Complaint Over Spring Covid Policies

News

Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review Retracts Article, Admitting Editorial 'Failure'

News

Students, Faculty Reflect on 100 Years of Harvard Business School’s Case Method

Seniors Look Back on Their Four Years

By Mary LOUISE Kelly

Mary Louise Kelly '93 was senior editor of the Crimson in 1992.

They say if God had been a Harvard student, he would have slept the first six days and pulled an all-nighter on the seventh.

That is, unless he were a senior at the time, in which case he probably would have asked his TF for an extension on the entire project.

There's something about Harvard--maybe it's the ivy, all the centuries of brick, or all the oldness around here--that seems to make time run slow.

Procrastination is a long-standing tradition among Harvard's undergraduates, dating from well before The Game and counting many more disciples than ice cream in the Union, sex in Widener and the Primal Scream. My classmates and I have done our best to uphold the tradition, starting off gently with a few late problem sets our first year and eventually blooming into full-fledged cases of seniorities.

I have spent this entire spring, for example, procrastinating on graduation. It's not an easy thing to do, since June 10 has a funny way of creeping up on you, no matter how hard you try to look the other direction. But somehow I thought I could hold it off a while longer by simply ignoring it.

This past month I've felt as though I were watching my last 30 days of childhood slipping by hour by hour. Granted, it's been a very pleasant slippage, viewed through a haze of Bloody Marys, long afternoons on the patio of Shay's and late-night stumblings back to Eliot House.

In the mornings this spring I would rise before the sun to row down the Charles to Boston and back, feeling the swing of the boat cast a therapeutic rhythm back into my days. I learned to tell Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 from No. 2; I fell in love with an Austrian expressionist named Fgon Schiele; I danced so hard the earrings flew off my head at a formal in the Fogg Museum.

Life at Harvard wasn't always this rich. It has been, at times, downright miserable. Only a few months ago I sat glued to my computer day after long February day, writing my thesis and watching dolefully as all remnants of sanity trickled out of my life.

The thesis experience is designed to bring out the extremes in a person, and I proved no exception. I hit bottom one night in the dining hall, bursting into sobbing tears for no reason except they'd run out of Crackling Oat Bran.

I made it through that night and the nights after that, returning to the keyboard to somehow reach deep inside my gut and spin out words I never knew I could write.

Looking back, I find it somewhat remarkable that 110 pages of anything could cause so much angst. Yet it seemed to have affected nearly all of us thesis-writers to some degree, provoking such bizarre forms of behavior that I wonder now whether we didn't all go a little temporarily insane.

When I had one week left until due date and one chapter left to write, the College was suddenly enveloped in the Blizzard of '93. Sunshine gave way within hours to black skies, hurricane-force winds, and foot after foot of snow and ice.

My roommate and I, always searching for new ways to procrastinate, decided not to risk erasing our theses by booting up in the midst of a potential electrical blackout. (Yes, of course, we could have saved on disk every few minutes, but it seemed too good an excuse to claim the gods had decreed no electronic work be done that day).

Instead, we seized upon a third roommate's copy of King Lear and, bundled head to toe in earmuffs, parkas and Bean boots, stomped into the middle of our courtyard.

Thigh deep-in snow, screaming to make Shakespeare's voice rise above the howling wind, we belted out Act III, scene II:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks' rage, blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout...

Rumble they bellyful' Spit, fire! Spout, rain!"

It's one of the privileges of being a senior that one can perform such outrageous acts in public and be labelled eccentric instead of a geek.

A few faces appeared at windows around the courtyard, curious about the ruckus but not foolish enough to raise their windows in the storm. We finally stopped and fought our way indoors, grinning ear to ear with spontaneity and the conviction that we had done our share to preserve the spirit of Old Eliot.

Funny thing is, I got a lot more out of that afternoon than if I had stayed inside rearranging footnotes. Sometimes you have to live life when it presents itself, to put aside all the things you're supposed to do--call it "procrastination," if you want--and just breathe.

This same idea dawned on me one night last fall while cruising the streets of Somerville with two friends in the cab of a U-Haul. We were hopelessly lost, hungry, and rapidly losing faith in the directions to the rental truck return we were given.

Just when we had gotten so grumpy we stopped speaking to each other, one of the guys pointed out that if we phoned the nearest Domino's and ordered a large pepperoni delivered to U-Haul in Somerville, we could simply follow the delivery boy and find not only our destination but a hot pizza there to greet us.

(This, by the way, is a brilliant idea in theory but in practice involves tailing numerous kamikaze-driver delivery boys through unsavory neighborhoods.)

We ended up back at Domino's, eating our pizza while squatting on the curb of the parking lot. When we finally found U-Haul it was closed, but by then we were laughing so hard we didn't care.

I went back alone the next morning and returned the truck without a problem, but it wasn't nearly as much fun. It's sad to think that a lot of people go through life that way, just getting things done and never taking time out to eat pizza in a parking lot or drag race in a moving van with Domino's deliverers.

In a way, my most vivid Harvard memories are moments like these, spent with good friends in ridiculous situations. Recalling them helps me justify all the nights I spent finding alternative activities to studying.

This is not to deny that academics dominate daily life at Harvard In my four year here my eyes have opened ever wider. I have thought and puzzled and breathed literature and politics and theory and life--had an "ejaculation of the soul" as Flaubert once said--with new insights and knowledge and curiosity exploding nearly every day.

But somewhere along the line I lost my faith in education through lecturing and learning through busywork paper assignments.

Perhaps it was when my roommate. Expos teacher lauded the sentence "My crisp memories drowned in a sea of nebulous platitudes" as an example of fine writing. Perhaps it was when a friend quoted his roommate in an economics exam as "the esteemed Finnish Communist" and his teaching fellow rewarded him with a check and an "excellent reference" comment.

Whenever it happened, I decided I would probably learn a lot more from whatever it was I wanted to be doing at that moment rather than whatever banal academic task I was supposed to be doing.

If you try hard enough, you can convince yourself that this kind of procrastination actually promotes worthy goals, like enjoying life for the moment (my TFs, of course, might disagree with this logic).

Still, if I could take one non academic lesson away with me from Harvard, it would be that you've got to live in the "now," you've got to embrace the present.

It's a comforting notion for those of us leaving here tomorrow. The next 50-old years should give us plenty of time to kick back, order a pizza and learn how to live our lives.CrimsonTia A. ChapmarvMARY LOUISE KELLY '93

This past month I've felt as though I were watching my last 30 days of childhood slipping by hour by hour. Granted, it's been a very pleasant slippage, viewed through a haze of Bloody Marys, long afternoons on the patio of Shay's and late-night stumblings back to Eliot House.

In the mornings this spring I would rise before the sun to row down the Charles to Boston and back, feeling the swing of the boat cast a therapeutic rhythm back into my days. I learned to tell Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 from No. 2; I fell in love with an Austrian expressionist named Fgon Schiele; I danced so hard the earrings flew off my head at a formal in the Fogg Museum.

Life at Harvard wasn't always this rich. It has been, at times, downright miserable. Only a few months ago I sat glued to my computer day after long February day, writing my thesis and watching dolefully as all remnants of sanity trickled out of my life.

The thesis experience is designed to bring out the extremes in a person, and I proved no exception. I hit bottom one night in the dining hall, bursting into sobbing tears for no reason except they'd run out of Crackling Oat Bran.

I made it through that night and the nights after that, returning to the keyboard to somehow reach deep inside my gut and spin out words I never knew I could write.

Looking back, I find it somewhat remarkable that 110 pages of anything could cause so much angst. Yet it seemed to have affected nearly all of us thesis-writers to some degree, provoking such bizarre forms of behavior that I wonder now whether we didn't all go a little temporarily insane.

When I had one week left until due date and one chapter left to write, the College was suddenly enveloped in the Blizzard of '93. Sunshine gave way within hours to black skies, hurricane-force winds, and foot after foot of snow and ice.

My roommate and I, always searching for new ways to procrastinate, decided not to risk erasing our theses by booting up in the midst of a potential electrical blackout. (Yes, of course, we could have saved on disk every few minutes, but it seemed too good an excuse to claim the gods had decreed no electronic work be done that day).

Instead, we seized upon a third roommate's copy of King Lear and, bundled head to toe in earmuffs, parkas and Bean boots, stomped into the middle of our courtyard.

Thigh deep-in snow, screaming to make Shakespeare's voice rise above the howling wind, we belted out Act III, scene II:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks' rage, blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout...

Rumble they bellyful' Spit, fire! Spout, rain!"

It's one of the privileges of being a senior that one can perform such outrageous acts in public and be labelled eccentric instead of a geek.

A few faces appeared at windows around the courtyard, curious about the ruckus but not foolish enough to raise their windows in the storm. We finally stopped and fought our way indoors, grinning ear to ear with spontaneity and the conviction that we had done our share to preserve the spirit of Old Eliot.

Funny thing is, I got a lot more out of that afternoon than if I had stayed inside rearranging footnotes. Sometimes you have to live life when it presents itself, to put aside all the things you're supposed to do--call it "procrastination," if you want--and just breathe.

This same idea dawned on me one night last fall while cruising the streets of Somerville with two friends in the cab of a U-Haul. We were hopelessly lost, hungry, and rapidly losing faith in the directions to the rental truck return we were given.

Just when we had gotten so grumpy we stopped speaking to each other, one of the guys pointed out that if we phoned the nearest Domino's and ordered a large pepperoni delivered to U-Haul in Somerville, we could simply follow the delivery boy and find not only our destination but a hot pizza there to greet us.

(This, by the way, is a brilliant idea in theory but in practice involves tailing numerous kamikaze-driver delivery boys through unsavory neighborhoods.)

We ended up back at Domino's, eating our pizza while squatting on the curb of the parking lot. When we finally found U-Haul it was closed, but by then we were laughing so hard we didn't care.

I went back alone the next morning and returned the truck without a problem, but it wasn't nearly as much fun. It's sad to think that a lot of people go through life that way, just getting things done and never taking time out to eat pizza in a parking lot or drag race in a moving van with Domino's deliverers.

In a way, my most vivid Harvard memories are moments like these, spent with good friends in ridiculous situations. Recalling them helps me justify all the nights I spent finding alternative activities to studying.

This is not to deny that academics dominate daily life at Harvard In my four year here my eyes have opened ever wider. I have thought and puzzled and breathed literature and politics and theory and life--had an "ejaculation of the soul" as Flaubert once said--with new insights and knowledge and curiosity exploding nearly every day.

But somewhere along the line I lost my faith in education through lecturing and learning through busywork paper assignments.

Perhaps it was when my roommate. Expos teacher lauded the sentence "My crisp memories drowned in a sea of nebulous platitudes" as an example of fine writing. Perhaps it was when a friend quoted his roommate in an economics exam as "the esteemed Finnish Communist" and his teaching fellow rewarded him with a check and an "excellent reference" comment.

Whenever it happened, I decided I would probably learn a lot more from whatever it was I wanted to be doing at that moment rather than whatever banal academic task I was supposed to be doing.

If you try hard enough, you can convince yourself that this kind of procrastination actually promotes worthy goals, like enjoying life for the moment (my TFs, of course, might disagree with this logic).

Still, if I could take one non academic lesson away with me from Harvard, it would be that you've got to live in the "now," you've got to embrace the present.

It's a comforting notion for those of us leaving here tomorrow. The next 50-old years should give us plenty of time to kick back, order a pizza and learn how to live our lives.CrimsonTia A. ChapmarvMARY LOUISE KELLY '93

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags