The Bystander Strikes Back

As classes began this week in earnest, Camp Harvard ’08 and its sidekick, “Shopping Period,” came to a jarring end.

As classes began this week in earnest, Camp Harvard ’08 and its sidekick, “Shopping Period,” came to a jarring end. And while freshman Facebook statuses bemoaning its conclusion have begun to pop up across the Harvard network, I can’t help but question the legitimacy of this nostalgia.

Because, to be quite frank, Harvard is populated by a group of people who were undoubtedly painfully awkward campers in childhood, and why any such camper would virtually pine for a return to the contrived, queasy confines of any camp-like situation beguiles me.

Flash back to the summer of 1998. Imagine Peter, my twenty-something camp counselor, struggling to silence a hot room full of rowdy pre-teens. Silently sitting in the corner, all I could think about, however, was how nothing—not even Counselor Peter’s inappropriately placed goatee—was ever going to convince me that mixing vinegar, yellow food coloring, and rocks could make “real” gold.

Afternoon Alchemy was a bust, and I wanted a revolution.

“This is so mundane!” I shouted, slamming my backpack onto the linoleum floor of the Alchemist’s Lair.

My classically pre-Harvardian outburst won me more than just scornful laughs. Instead of revolution, what I got were two weeks of isolation from my imagined comrades. And while it may have been lonely actively refraining from the plebeian trappings of the other members of Wampanoag Cabin, I know now that I most certainly wasn’t alone, because across the country, at science camps and singing camps and sports camps, future Harvard students’ revolutions were being awkwardly thwarted by the exact same forces.

But just because we were all here being awkward together at a sleep-away camp on the Charles doesn’t necessarily mean that the gawkish days have ended.

I remember young Grant Noble’s first Harvard Carnival, baked beans and ranger cookies sliding around his white plastic plate as he tried to manage his cutlery, hold a hotdog, and escape from a girl with blonde dreadlocks who said she wanted to be his best friend.

In fact, run-ins like this have unquestionably been happening at Harvard since 1636, when the first hobbledehoy freshmen putzed around the Yard, chewing on hardtack and trying to make friends with the other budding clergymen. And they’re still happening, (albeit with a deepened knowledge of technology).

This year, as Hunter Bennett concentrates on eating his third piece of fried dough and saving the pin number of another BBM friend, he orates with our observed inconsistency about the joys of the first week at Harvard; “Well, I mean, I just like to party. So clearly I don’t want Camp Harvard to end.” Hunter, please remember, you had to have been smart and awkward to get into Harvard. Don’t think it ends there.

So, before you affix statements to the top of your profile like “Brade Lane is xjdfj4 camp39still drunkkk Thayer!!” and “Stacia Gonzales is :-( going to miss Camp Harvard,” remind yourself of the night you asked why anyone would play a game named after the capital of Lebanon or of the afternoon you met your first Harvard girlfriend at the pre-med ice cream info session. Now that’s real gold.