Reclaiming Regret

When given the opportunity to reflect on my personal life in the pages of The Crimson, I’ve always written about things I appreciate.

First, I wrote about the benefits of the First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP), and how it eases the transition to college life. Then, my close relationship with my mother inspired me to write a piece about incessant phone calls and the necessity of communication. After junior parents weekend, I envisioned what my roommates would be like as adults coming back to our 30th reunion. Then, this year, I wrote about my favorite place at Harvard—Mather House—and the importance of the dorm’s strong community and spirit.

The past few weeks have afforded me more time to reflect on what has been an overwhelmingly positive college experience. When I filled out the senior survey last month, I gave glowing reviews to many aspects of Harvard, chief among them the history of science department, where I have spent my happiest academic moments and received top-notch advising. Chock full of social events and quality hang-out time, one goal of senior week was to instill in the graduating class a warm feeling for the College. Last week, we were encouraged to forget our regrets, take advantage of our last chances, and look back on our time at Harvard with fondness.

Often, if a senior expresses sadness or disappointment, he or she is told to appreciate the good parts and not to dwell on the bad. So what if I never got to see the Bow and Arrow Press in the basement of Adams House? I’ve watched the presses roll at 14 Plympton at 6 a.m., surrounded by Crimson editors I love and respect. Presumably, I have no reason to yearn for the chance to do it all over.

But some good can come from regret. In many ways, it’s useful for others. In advising and mentoring relationships, I’ve been able to pass down nuggets of wisdom to younger students based not only on the knowledge of things that I have done, but also from chances I have missed.

More importantly, though, regret is not something to relegate to the dusty recesses of your mind this week just because it isn’t pleasant to dwell on it in a time of constant celebration. Realizing that there are still things I want to accomplish—things that I did not experience at Harvard—will help me map out my post-graduate life. My past regrets will guide my future priorities.

I am most disappointed, for example, that I did not have an “international experience” or learn a foreign language fluently. I wish I had joined a community service group, like CityStep or Strong Women Strong Girls. And ever since seeing the Ghungroo show, I’ve wanted to learn more about South Asian dance.

So, next fall, finances permitting, I will be living in Florence and volunteering for a museum. After six months there, I would love to engage in “international vagabondage,” a phrase that my friend and I coined this month. At some point, when I’m settled in New York, I want to join a mentoring program. And this summer, finding a studio that gives Bhangra lessons is one of the first items on my to-do list.

There are some things, like climbing up into the Lowell Belltower on a Sunday at 1 p.m., that I may not have a chance to do later in life. But I have stargazed from the bleachers of Harvard Stadium on a cool spring night, and there is no reason that the joy of the latter negates the bittersweet quality of the former.

If it were always so easy to fill in the gaps, then it might seem that there is no penalty for missed chances. And clearly it’s not always as easy as a few dance lessons. But is it even the right thing to always turn regrets into actions? Instead of going to Florence, I’m tempted to find a job in journalism come September. It’s a field in which I’ve had some success, so why not let my rewarding experiences guide me to further accomplishments? Instead, with my plan to go abroad, I’m venturing into unknown territory. And I think that’s exactly what I like about it. Making up for a missed opportunity, like any other new experience, is a risk. And after four years of blissful protection by the Harvard bubble, I think I’m ready to take some chances.

And having regrets means that there are things left to do. When my roommates and I went to Ireland for an intersession trip, I was initially upset that we hadn’t made it to all of the sightseeing attractions listed in the guidebook. But now I recall that scenario in a more positive light. Missing out on a few things is all right because it can help map and prioritize the future. It is comforting not only to know that there is ground left to cover after we leave Harvard, but also that what were first regrets from college can serve as signposts as we set out to cover that ground in the coming years.

Hana R. Alberts ’06, who was a Crimson executive editor and news comp director in 2005, is a history and science concentrator in Mather House.