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There are few harder tasks than to reflect on college and be original. It would be a miracle for me to discuss the profound moments of college and to give gratitude to the people who have been so important to me, all without coming off as at least a little trite. Furthermore, I am resisting the male urge of using favorite scenes and lines from classic college movies (Animal House, Road Trip, etc.) to take the place of meaningful reflection. Suffice it to say that I owe any remaining sanity to my roommates, any decent grades to my parents and high school teachers, and any clarity to a handful of professors, lecturers, and good friends.
Recognizing that anything I scribble will probably be a rehash of something written more eloquently before, I think I’ll use my “parting shot” to discuss the whole “learning” thing here at Harvard.
The gap between the lofty phrases extolling the grandeur and preeminence of the faculty and the grinding reality of some agonizingly boring classes make the edumacation component (you read that correctly) of Harvard an easy target for mockery. We’ve all been there. We students know that it is often the TF’s lucky day when more than half the attendees have come to section having done all the reading. The lecture halls that were packed during shopping week are, by mid-semester, lonelier than a Hurlbut single.
I myself have joined in the ridicule. In my family’s annual letter two holiday seasons ago, I wrote that by matriculating at Harvard, I had made a “desperate gamble to trade in four years of [my] life for the right to carelessly throw around important-sounding academic buzzwords in otherwise normal Habermasian discourse.” I think I made that phrase up, “Habermasian discourse.”
To be fair, I had recently finished Social Studies 10, an inspiring and thought-provoking class and a mecca for social theory. Moreover, I had taken a few really bad classes here. It would be inappropriate to name names and go into them here, but in case any parents were wondering, awful classes at the greatest university in the cosmos do exist, and they are not an endangered species.
But parents, do not fret. Your money was well-spent. Some of the richest moments of my life happened in these lecture halls, classrooms and libraries. Well, actually “libraries” should read “coffeehouses.” I calculated recently that I have spent more time in local Cambridge cafés than in classrooms. Those distinguished professors, cash-starved TFs and obscenely expensive books and coursepacks have changed me, and they have changed my friends. We do, indeed, look at ourselves and the world with different eyes.
Again, I cannot escape the trite prose. I need to explain what it means to look at ourselves and the world with “different eyes.” Examples are in order. Two classes—Porter University Professor Helen H. Vendler’s Literature & Arts A-22, “Poems, Poets, Poetry” and Reid Professor of English and American Literature Philip J. Fisher’s English 165, “Joyce, Modernism, and Aestheticism” —transformed my relationship with literature. One of my fondest memories will be sitting in the Barker Center Café (yet another coffeehouse) going over the week’s poems for Vendler’s section. And there was one night when I literally could not go to sleep because I had to finish a chapter of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past not because it was required for class, but because it was such a beautiful story.
I also see these changes in my roommates and friends. Foreign Cultures 34, “Mesoamerican Civilizations” has one roommate looking to travel to Central America. There is another roommate who will be graduating with a degree in Chemistry, but his passion, he learned after taking a few classes in the Visual and Environmental Studies department, is design and architecture.
I mentioned that I owe any clarity to a handful of professors, lecturers and good friends. By “clarity,” I do not mean direction. Indeed, many of my peers, including myself, have as much focus and direction for their life as they did the first day they stepped foot in the Yard. What I got from Harvard and in my opinion what many of friends got is not so much a clear path to walk as a self-confidence for understanding our world.
After four years, and oh-so-many dollars, what many of us leave with is a richer desire to engage the world, and the belief that we can overcome those challenges.
Kenyon S.M. Weaver ’03, a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House, was magazine publisher of The Crimson in 2002.
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