Off Harvard Time

The teachings of Harvard are manifold. We are all student snowflakes: we each leave having learned a unique set of

The teachings of Harvard are manifold. We are all student snowflakes: we each leave having learned a unique set of lessons. There are those who concentrate in Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (is that a thing?) and there are those who concentrate in Folklore and Mythology (just kidding!). Some of us learn about history, others learn about literature, and still others learn about history and literature. Many of us leave with increased appreciation for “Lolita” and alcohol, with ineffable enmities for Henry James and sobriety (thanks DAPA!). There are even an elite few who learn how to tie bowties. But there’s one thing that all of us learn here, one thing that each individual in this snowstorm of learning we call Harvard takes beyond its ivied walls. That golden lesson?

Never, ever be on time. For anything.

We are all united by the democratizing bond of Harvard Time, which, in its infallible and infinite wisdom, decrees that classes start seven minutes after they’re actually slated to begin. This may not make any kind of sense, but it’s awesome. Harvard Time is a kind of communion that washes away our tardiness; unlike Gen Ed, it teaches us a very important lesson: our time is far more important than anyone else’s. And that goes doubly for tenured professors.

Because while our teachers probably don’t have two classes in a row, we often do, and getting from Sever to Harvard Hall takes time, dammit! Especially when you have to print out a paper first, and also pick up coffee in order to stay awake, and also stop and talk to people you meet along the way. Those seven to 15 minutes are important!

As your average overeager freshman, I quickly came to understand the ins and outs of Harvard Time. Arriving early to my Moral Reasoning section, I was forced to awkwardly schmooze with my TF, a pasty, terrified philosophy grad student. I realized that the logic of Harvard Time held true outside the academic sphere. No one cool goes to Annenberg before 6:00 p.m. Showing up on time to parties meant I had to help set up, plus everybody laughed at me, or at least they would have if they had been there.

Looking back, I realize fashionable lateness is the hallmark of a Harvard education, as my own studies attest. As I learned in a recent Harvard History lecture, the ninth president of Harvard College, Edward Holyoke (1689-1769), wrote Harvard Time into the bylaws of the Harvard Constitution after he noticed that plays and NBA games don’t begin until seven minutes after the hour. Tardiness was customary then: the professor went on to state that the American Revolution could have been avoided had the British Redcoats not committed a faux pas by showing up early to the Boston Tea Party. (I missed the first half of that lecture, but I’m pretty sure this is all true.)

As a graduating senior preparing to move forward with my life, I’m grateful for the lessons of Harvard Time. After realizing the old boy network of Harvard employers probably sets its clocks several minutes slow, I’ve taken to showing up to job interviews tardy in order to reap the benefits of my Ivy League education. It’s been a successful tactic; while the hiring deadline has passed, I am currently waiting by the phone for offers that are sure to be fashionably late.

Pundits of punctuality are most resistant to Harvard Time. They argue that classes should end early instead of starting late, that it encourages temporal laxity, that it makes us less polite. These are silly arguments.

Because the vast majority of us set our internal chronometers to Harvard Time. This semester I have an oddly timed 5:30 p.m. section. After strolling in at 5:42, a student asked the TF whether the class had started at 5:30. The TF was shocked. “No, of course not,” she stammered slowly. “It starts at seven after. You’re fine.” She was dumbfounded that another option could possibly exist. I watched as the student, happy to have his belief in the universality of Harvard Time affirmed, placidly took a seat. He was twelve minutes late. He had missed nearly a quarter of the section. Absolutely no one cared. It was wonderful.

In the uptight, restrictive atmosphere this institution works so hard to foster, the seven-minute rule is the lone, laid-back beacon of permissiveness. And it’s a rule I’ve enjoyed abusing. Thanks, Edward Holyoke. Or whoever. You’re the best.

—Jake G. Cohen ’09 is a History and Literature concentrator in Leverett House. He handed this piece in several hours after deadline.