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Accepting Normalcy

Harvard students need to realize that we are not as special as we think

By Mark A. Adomanis

My very first experience at Harvard, back in the fall of 1991, involved standing by my parents’ ugly grey Peugeot station wagon and watching my brother move into Grays Middle 24. To six-year old Mark Adomanis, the yard was a deeply beautiful green haven, Grays the most beautiful dorm, and Harvard the most beautiful, most desirable, and best university in the whole wide world.

I grew older, if not wiser, and the golden image I had constructed frayed around the edges. It was not just that I gained a more realistic vision of the College, but that I came to recognize that the widely held image of Harvard as a profoundly unique institution—one possessed of some indescribable allure—was both inaccurate and pretentious.

As my time here ends, perhaps my most troubling self-realization is one that most Harvard students deeply fear: a sense of my own normalcy.

Today I don’t remember prefrosh weekend particularly well: The awkward introductions, the poor weather, and the inaugural Mather Lather have blurred together in my memory. I do, however, distinctly remember reading an article in the “pre-frosh” edition of The Crimson, which purported to describe the course of a typical undergraduate’s social life.

The article confidently predicted my progress: As a freshman I would spend time at overcrowded, sweaty, and generally tedious parties or nursing a beer in my dorm, furtively listening for the local proctor. As a sophomore I would get punched, probably unsuccessfully, by a club or two, friends would join fraternities, sororities, or some other club. And as an upperclassman, I would begin to visit local bars and, increasingly, frequent the final clubs.

Like many others, I’ve never really felt comfortable being lumped with the mass of “Harvard students.” I scoffed at that article: “That writer’s just a know-it-all and probably a loser. College is going to be so much sweeter than that.” More defensively, I also concluded that it was surely impossible to typecast a four year experience so easily.

Recently, however, the question of “how I spent my time at Harvard” was posed very starkly by the visit of a good friend from home. Reed—a humorous, free-spirited guy, not currently in school—had never before set foot on Harvard’s campus. Besides visiting me, he wanted to see “what Harvard is all about.”

What exactly did I do with Reed? How did I expose him to all the myriad intricacies of undergraduate life at this, the country’s most prestigious university? Well, in short, I did pretty much what that article said I would. We went to a stein club, hosted a party, went to a senior bar at the Kong, and, of course, stopped by a few of the final clubs.

The weekend (post-thesis) was certainly neither bad nor boring—it was very fun. It was not, however, unique; it was a pretty standard weekend for a reasonably sociable Harvard undergrad. And it reminded me that, despite Harvard students’ constant efforts to differentiate ourselves, to excel and prove our independence, there are very strong bonds that tie many, if not all, of us together.

After all, Harvard is an old, wealthy, and powerful school and it has developed a lasting institutional memory—larger than any of its individual students. The idea that our time here is strongly influenced by factors outside of our control—our freshman roommates, our housing assignment—is a humbling one, as is the obvious, yet somehow unpleasant, fact that we can’t all stand out.

As the Class of 2007’s time at Harvard draws to a close, and as the other classes continue their inevitable movement through this school, I think we could all benefit from some renewed sense of humility, and an awareness that we might not be quite as special as we would like to imagine. This isn’t a pejorative, just the truth. It might even help us understand those bright, carefree “college days” that are so rapidly drawing to a close.

Mark A. Adomanis ’07, as Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.

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