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Parting Shot

The Reality of Harvard

By Marcel E. Moran

Three small things happened this year that stood out to me. The first was a Facebook post from a friend who wrote, referring to graduation, “You’re almost a real person!” The second was an ad in the Crimson for a graduate school that warned, “the real world sucks,” and the third was an Office of Career Services pamphlet that called applying for fellowships a way to “venture into the real world.” You don’t have to look very far to find someone ready to tell you how life at Harvard is somehow unreal, but this construction of reality surrounding Harvard is a fundamentally inadequate perspective.

The main reasons people, often students, view the College in this way, is because of its stark difference from the life we have known before, and the life we expect to know after. This difference however should not serve as the line of real and fake, but rather show us the plasticity of our existences. It is true that, in all likelihood, at no other part of our lives will we live in a one-mile radius of all of our closest friends, or spend each day expanding our knowledge, but these differences should encourage us to always choose to live how we want, rather than by what we are expected to once we enter the “real” world.

Harvard, in this way, is the most real part of our lives we may ever lead, because while here we have been freed from the from the errands and details that otherwise disturb us. We do not have to shop for groceries, pay electric bills, or commute to work each morning. Instead, Harvard grants us a period of time to do exactly what we really want. When else can you spend January working with children in Uganda, June through August researching at the World Bank, September hiking the Appalachian trail with seven strangers, and October through November questioning William James’ theory of personality, Sharia law’s effects on international policy, and even the value of green fluorescent protein.? Harvard’s reality opens us up to opportunities that were before only fantasy, and lets us live them. Perhaps former Harvard President Nathan Pusey said it best, that Harvard “was not so much an exercise in learning as an experience of life itself.”

Considering these years as less real than our time outside of Harvard also diminishes what we have done here. Every academic insight, every connection made to the past, to the future, and in between disciplines, was importantly authentic. The same is true of our own creations while at Harvard. The beauty of a documentary film, or an improv scene, or a mathematical proof is as real as the effort we have put into them. Our athletics are a prime example of this. Ask any athlete on the reality of their 6 a.m. practice in the rain, or a jump shot against Princeton, or the climb up heartbreak hill, and you will see that all of these things are crucially real to the people that did them. And indeed, of our entire Harvard experience, nothing has been more real than our relationships. From pre-frosh weekend to senior week every smile, every meal together, and every walk along the Charles has been as tangible as any friendships we may form. Proof of this exists in the testimony of any alumni, who will tell you that their roommates, classmates, and teammates have remained close friends, no matter where life has taken them.

Harvard is unique. It is memorable. Everything about these four years disrupts our transition to and from the rest of life, not because of their falseness, but instead their enduring reality. For now, our Harvard experience is coming to a close, but rather than lamenting our entry into the “real world,” let us hold as tightly as we can to the reality we have created here, and replicate it far outside these gates.

Marcel E. Moran ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.

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Parting ShotCommencement 2011