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Amidst the hubbub of returning to Harvard—moving in, shopping classes, reconnecting with old friends—the realization that something is amuck slowly sets in. The eager sharing of summer tales fuels optimistic anticipation for what lies ahead in the upcoming year; well, at least until you venture outside the comforting confines of blockmates’ abodes to confront the daunting walk through the Yard. Confident that awkward encounters are limited to the lives of first-years, you quickly realize that you were sorely mistaken.
While gleefully jetting off to the Harvard Square hotspot that suits your fancy—because it is, after all, still shopping period, primetime for procrastination—one sees, in the distance, a familiar silhouette. Relishing the fact that you’re no longer a first-year and have a dependable web of college friends, you prepare to reopen the lines of communication for yet another year. As you approach your friend, the glimmer of recognition begins. You confidently make eye contact, and shine a megawatt, albeit goofy, smile. As you begin to raise your arm to say “hey,” you witness something truly shocking.
First, this so-called “friend” of yours sports a vapid expression on their face. Attributing this to mere near-sightedness—convinced they once wore glasses in that Core class you shared—you trace their gaze. With a half-raised “hey,” you realize it’s not poor eyesight; instead, you’re struck that they look you right in the eyes, yet make a conscious decision to exit the comforting realm of acquaintanceship. Looking quite awkward with your mid-flight hand wave, you quickly regroup, and pass this now former friend (exiting acquaintanceship means entering the abyss of “recognizable…but not worth it”).
Of course, we’re all guilty of this social abuse. The rationale—admittedly faulty—rests upon the notion that after a span of time, when a friendship is based on trivial shared experiences, it’s superfluous to continue the cordialities simply because of social etiquette. Yet, as we become veteran Harvardians, this avoidance of acquaintances is ironic, since upperclass students often feel increasingly alone. Unlike with first-years who, in order to integrate into social life, must actively seek out new friends, this tradition is taboo amongst upperclass students. In turn, upperclass students are left to socialize solely with blockmates and already established friends. Gone are the days of Annenberg introductions; in their place: dining hall lunch cliques reign supreme.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Regardless of the path we choose at Harvard, or what social clique we belong to, we are consistently bombarded with the opportunity to connect to numerous fellow students. Whether it’s sharing notes for a class, chatting at a party, meeting through an extra-curricular, or clinging to each other during pre-frosh weekend, it’s imperative that we value these connections for the emotional stability they provide. At such a demanding institution, it’s the small experiences that you share with others that ensure your sanity.
As it is the beginning of the new school year, it’s the norm for all Harvard Type-As to make resolution lists for the semester to come. Next to the staggeringly high goal for GPA, and the list of clubs to start, remember to include an effort to cultivate the relationships that have helped you through the Harvard experience thus far. Harvard can be daunting, so it never hurts to have pleasant, if passing, interactions. Simply put, when walking by a familiar face, just say hey.
Elise M. Stefanik ’06, an editorial comper, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.
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