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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Some Tales From the Great Beyond

By Christina S. Lewis

The following responses are from a questionnaire I gave to a statistically insignificant sample of recent Harvard graduates. The margin of error is in the double digits.

The respondents:

Sarah (All names have been changed). Class of 1993. Kirkland House. Social Studies concentrator. From Alexandria, Va. What she did after graduating: Let's Go editor; job in banking industry, magazine intern, sexy paralegal, hair stylist (best job all year), Yale Law School. Now she's a teaching fellow.

David. Class of 1995. Kirkland House. Economics concentrator. From Toronto. What he first did after graduating: worked construction. Current job: not applicable.

Ashley. Class of 1997. Mather House. History concentrator. From Norwood, Mass. What he first did after graduating: hung out at home for the summer. Current job: advocate in the Child Abuse Unit of the District Attorney's office.

Emily. Class of 1997. Mather House. Psychology concentrator. From Princeton, N.J. What she first did after graduating: went home and worked at a restaurant for the summer since his job didn't start until later. Current job: Women's National Basketball Association.

Michael. Class of 1993. Eliot House. Government concentrator. From Toronto. What he did after graduating: public service project in Toronto; later worked for McKinsey. Current job: independent management consultant.

Mimi. Class of 1995. Adams House. Social Studies concentrator. From New York City, N.Y. What she did after College: wrote for Let's Go France, worked in a bookstore and later applied to law school. Current job: actress.

Did you enjoy Harvard?

Sarah: "Oh yeah. It was the best place, the best time. My best friends are from these years. It was constantly exciting, intellectually challenging. I learned so much and was exposed to so much. I miss it, and that's why I'm back here!"

David: "When I came to Harvard, I knew for sure that I wanted to be rich. When I left, I knew for sure that I wanted to be an investment banker. Five years later, I know for sure that I despise investment banking. For me, Harvard was like a poorly made drink in that I felt good about it only after I was done with it. Why not? I didn't give the bartender (stay with my metaphor here) enough proportion guidance."

Ashley: "YES YES YES!"

Mimi: "Harvard was fun, but hard on my burgeoning artistic sensibilities."

One recent graduate said, "I could only marry someone who went to Harvard, or maybe Oxford. Anyone else would be too intimidated." Is this true for you?

Sarah: Yes. I could only marry someone who was incredibly intelligent. Qualifications help, but are not necessary. Of my last boyfriends, let's see--current one was at Cambridge, previous one was at Cambridge, previous one was at Oxford and…

Michael: "No. I think that's total Harvard crap."

Mimi: "Met my man freshman week and married him seven years later."

Ashley: "I've never thought this way, but maybe that's part of my problem. I can see that the intimidation factor could be an issue, particularly for women."

Emily: "Yeah, people who are insecure are intimidated. But I'm convinced there are some men out there who don't give a shit. The real problem is that there are very few people in the real world who can hold an intelligent conversation, Harvard grad or not. I never realized how much TV most of the people in the world watch."

Every senior I have talked to is scared and anxious about graduating. What advice would you want to tell them?

Sarah: "I would tell them to be much less concerned about financial security or creating a 'career' for themselves right after college. The first couple of years after college are 'freebies'--it really doesn't matter.

Ashley: "Work for a year or two, then GO BACK TO SCHOOL! The work experience can only help your grad school applications. And work can be fun. It's not like college where you MUST take it home with you."

Emily: "Take your time and don't worry about getting to a certain point at the 'right time.' Get a job before you graduate. And PLEASE don't go back and live at home for more than a few months after you graduate."

Mimi: "Everything will be alright. Just learn to listen to yourself, and it will all work out. People act like they have it all figured out; but if you don't have a New York consulting or I-banking job offer do not worry; those people will be envying the fact that you have a social life; while they slave away for 90 hours a week!"

Michael: "The best advice I got was to be sure to follow your passions. That is probably what got you to Harvard in the first place and also has made for some of your best times, memories at H...follow your passions. Regardless of what other classmates think or do and things will work out pretty well."

Christina S.N. Lewis '02 is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House.

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