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We’re standing around the common room of a first floor dorm, a couple people sprawled out on the couch, one standing by the dresser. I’m perched on a desk, and the whole room bursts out into laughter at a physics joke. One girl sighs, “Where else would this conversation happen but at Harvard?”
It’s true—thoughtful, intellectually stimulating conversations happen on a daily basis at Harvard. In the dining halls, around seminar discussion tables, and on common room couches, meaningful conversation abounds around campus. The fallacy, however, lies in assuming that Harvard is the only place that these conversations can be found.
It’s remarkable that Harvard students are frantically crafting novels in their dorm rooms or running venture capital firms from dining halls. But just as many students our age have similar aspirations with similar, if not greater, accomplishments. A student from the University of Maryland has founded the largest student voice network in the country; a Vanderbilt student invented an algae-fueled carbon dioxide converter. Harvard is not the sole incubator of accomplished young people.
Nor is it the only home of kindred spirits. Would any of us write off our conversations with friends and acquaintances from the 18 years before we entered college as trite, shallow, and meaningless? Some of my deepest friendships were forged at high school sleepovers, munching on muffins at midnight, discussing philosophies covered in A.P. European History. People like the friends we bonded with in high school are all over the country, from small liberal arts colleges to large state schools. Those kindred spirits continue to exist in the present, beyond Harvard’s walls.
Too often, I see appreciation of Harvard’s history and academic excellence mistranslated into a sense of personal uniqueness. While Harvard as a university might be unparalleled in its age, endowment, and resources offered, each of us individually is not somehow transitively bestowed with superior intelligence and likelihood of success (much less conversational skills).
Despite being surrounded by accomplished peers on a daily basis, there’s no need to massage our self-esteem by dusting off our feathers and announcing our alleged superiority to the outside world. Yes, there are winners of worldwide science competitions living in close proximity to us, but there are also winners of worldwide science competitions outside of Harvard and undiscovered scientific geniuses whom we have yet to meet. Perhaps instead of praising the admissions process that filtered us in along with giants, a simple acknowledgement that we have more to learn and more people to learn from would suffice.
Lastly, lauding the distinctiveness of Harvard and disparaging the outside world will only leave us in the dust at graduation. No matter how fantastic Harvard is, the fact remains that at the end of four years, we have to depart and enter the real world. It’s a flat-out lie that once we throw our caps in the air, we bid goodbye to all philosophy and meaning and intellectual stimulation.
Only with some humility—and a healthy dose of reality—can we look around at the accomplishments of our classmates and truly treasure those meaningful late-night conversations. We can admire our peers’ accomplishments and hard work without viewing it as an earmark of the categorical superiority of the students selected to attend Harvard. By recognizing that interesting people exist both inside and outside Harvard, we not only allow each individual his or her fair share of respect but also save ourselves from approximately 60 years of spiritual loneliness after graduation.
I have faith that even after I graduate, there will be kindred spirits and late-night conversations to sate the soul. I also believe that my best friends in high school, the ones with whom I snacked on muffins while hashing out our rudimentary understanding of Hobbes at age 15, are having equally rewarding and meaningful discussions at Georgetown and Kenyon and colleges across the country. At Harvard—but not only at Harvard—the whole room can burst into laughter at something as humble as a physics joke.
YingYing Shang ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer in Canaday Hall.
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