Maintaining a Healthy Perspective on Life

This is the second "My First Year" piece that I have endeavored to complete. A year ago at this time, as a 20 year-old rising junior, I composed an essay concerning the somewhat popular notion that when one comes to Harvard, he or she becomes a small fish in a big pond, as opposed to high school, when the situation was more akin to the individual existing as a big fish in a small pond.

Thus, in this encore effort, I make two requests to members of the incoming Class of 2003. First, I ask that one of you save me a copy of this issue. Upperclas students rarely get to see a copy of it, and I never saw my piece in print. Even though I'm now a 21 year-old rising senior, recognition can be hard to find at Harvard, and its really nice to see your published work as it appears in final form. You can bring a copy to The Crimson at 14 Plympton St. during one of our fall open houses--I'll be there. Thanks a lot.

My second request may be of more interest to you. Like I said, I wrote a "My First Year" piece directed at last year's first-year class. I thought I had it all figured out: understand that in all likelihood you're not going to be the superstar at Harvard that you were in high school, and you'll be all set--a fruitful and satisfying life awaits. However, in truth, I still battle with this every day I'm at school (and especially on the days that I receive mid-term and final grades). So, this past spring, as one of my best friends talked me down from jumping off the top of The Crimson's (two-story) building (onto the fire department's trampoline) the day after I got back my B- on my political theory mid-term, I reflected that perhaps it might be time to find a new solution to college life. After some deep contemplation (and many sessions with my court-ordered therapist), maybe, just maybe, I've figured it out, a year after my initial attempt.

But before I reveal what the solution is, I ask you to accompany me on a brief but exciting historical journey through my first year at Harvard. Way back in October of 1996, I met Her. Yes, Her. The One.

The one? You know, the One--the one that everyone meets at college; the One who the forces of love and the lords of the universe have connected you to and who you will inevitably ride off into the sunset with and live happily ever after with and all that. You know, the whole When Harry Met Sally and Harold and Maude thing. I was a bit surprised I found Her so soon--I figured it wouldn't be until Hanukkah at the earliest--but it was definitely Her, no doubt. Thus began and epic eight month journey of courtship--featuring flowers, midnight walks, laughter and tears--that, alas, would end with me heartbroken, my faith in the gods and goddesses of true love shattered, and my life headed undeterringly towards loneliness and desolation.


As this was going on, May 1997 approached. As a seasoned second-semester first-year, I had determined that by keeping my studies at arm's length for a semester, not only could I increase my tolerance for alcohol but also put myself in an irreversible predicament marked by poor, weaks, and forgettable grades. Despite my best rescue attempts during reading period, my grades slipped into the crapper, superflushed by the latest technology before I could reach in and grab them back. With my grade point average, of course, went my hopes for a successful life. There would be no opportunities for graduate school and no chance at a decent job after college; the only ladder that I would be climbing would be the one at the local A&P--to assist the customer in getting a 24-pack of Pepsi off the top shelf.

Now, with this brief review of my wondrous first-year experience complete, I follow up with a couple of epilogues. The Girl? The One I was destined to be making waffles for at age 73? Well, the following summer, I met another girl, and then another one in the fall, and then another one the following fall. I've figured out by now that while maybe the One is out there somewhere, it will take some wear and tear before I figure out it really is Her. The grades? Well, some pre-meds might still laugh at them until this day, and they're nothing to send off to Uncle Lou and Aunt Bernice in Port Chester, but at the same time I've also realized that they're also nothing that would get me in trouble on a mid-1980's NBC sitcom, let alone get me kicked out of school. They're fine.

Thus, I return to the thesis of my essay. My second request to you: Keep things in perspective. Maintain. Take a chill pill, Will. Don't get out of whack, Jack. It's all good, Wood. Despite these episodes of trauma, I think probably the best thing to do your first year is not to freak out. Take everything with a grain of salt, and don't be afraid to hear yourself muttering the words, "It's not that big of a deal. I'm 18, and I've got plenty of time left." Believe me, as a senior, just three years ahead of you, I can attest to it. This summer, I have several promising jobs, including (paid!) work at ESPN, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS Sports, plus a new girl on the horizon. Not bad for a guy who once thought that love and fame were well beyond his reach.

Oh, and don't forget--just one of you--to bring me a copy of this issue. Not that it's that big of a deal.

--Aaron R. Cohen '00 is the editor of Fifteen Minutes, The Crimson's weekend magazine.