Commencement 2010

First-World Problems: Navigating our Struggles

I have a grave matter to discuss and I implore you, dear reader, to feel sympathy for my cause. Please, give me a chance to speak up and be heard regarding the abundance of problems that surround us.

These problems are of a very distinct nature. Those of us who will be graduating tomorrow have become all too familiar with them. When I mention what is wrong, I’m talking about that feeling you get when you find out English is not your Teaching Fellow’s first language. It’s that forlorn look on your face when you burst onto Mass Ave. just in time to see the 1636er speeding off toward the Quad. Maybe it’s the time spent waiting insufferably for the ninety-year-old exam proctor to read instructions telling you to remain “incommunicado” in the event of a fire—or waiting for your TF to do the same, now that there is no room in the budget for the elderly. It could be seeing your linkmate’s eyes go wide and head roll back when the swiper in your House’s dining hall enforces interhouse restrictions.

Or perhaps it’s the travesty of finding yourself housed in a walk-through suite during your very own senior year. Or the chorus of complaints about the truly criminal quality of care available at University Health Services. It’s having to take the long way after finding the gate locked at 8 p.m. It’s the shellshock of finding out that your House formal will not, in fact, have an open bar. It’s having to take a school bus to get there, like a common schoolchild.

Many will argue that it’s the bombardment of injustices we face when we cross the threshold into the servery. It’s finding out that the menu lied to us. It’s having carbohydrates and nothing else shoved down our throats at brain break. It’s the squash. Ultimately, whether it’s having hot breakfast torn from our fingers or the near-mutiny resulting from the removal of Korean barbeque, Harvard University Dining Services perhaps is the most heinous agent of them all.

One of the gravest offenses is, naturally, our simply horrendous and mismanaged social programming. It is someone’s responsibility to provide us with enjoyable means of socialization, and that person has failed. It’s the collective apathy we feel when the date of the Yardfest artist announcement approaches, as we prepare for the inevitable disappointment once more. It’s having your inalienable human right to receive party grants violated.


We must endure such injustices on the regular. Always struggling, we sigh, we roll our eyes in disgust, and we speak aloud to any who will listen about the real mistreatments that seem like a barrage of death sentences.

I’m talking, of course, about first-world problems.

Harvard students of every make and model must live lives filled with these egregious interruptions and hindrances. We are saddled with a burden that most in our world will never be forced to face.

And it’s for this reason precisely that we should cherish all the first-world problems in our lives.

First-world problems, though I’ve done my best to mock them, are not solely valuable as a means of lampooning Harvard students. First-world problems, though we can joke about them, serve as a reminder of our station in life.

In these moments we can reflect upon the mind-blowing nature of how uniquely lucky we are to find ourselves with the opportunity to have spent four years at Harvard College. It speaks volumes about the inherent goodness in a place that inspires us to spend more time playing the GirlTalk blame game than actually studying. When we’re always getting worked up over the small stuff, it seems to be a good indication that the heart and soul of the University is solid.

Of course it’s cliché to lecture Ivy Leaguers on the over-privileged nature of their comfortable lives. But I’m not really trying to do that. We all really do face first-world problems every day. It doesn’t make us bad people to be annoyed by trivialities of life. We’re only human. But if we can use these little anecdotes as red flags to remind ourselves of the goodness we enjoy and have enjoyed for four long years, they lose their triviality and become meaningful.

It’s our job to actually take the extra second to go beyond the immediate outrage or cynicism and recognize that, honestly, whatever is causing your struggles is likely trivial. First-world problems are laughable; as such, they should make you laugh, recognize the absurdity of the situation, and move on with being happy. Because here, we have no reason not to be.

James A. McFadden ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.