After finals ended, I was ready for a break from Harvard. I packed my bags and boarded a plane back to Georgia, the place that for eight years I had called home. I was ready to celebrate the holidays, spend quality time with family and friends, and catch up on sleep without worrying about looming deadlines for papers, psets, or tests.
But soon I realized that—as much as I missed warm weather, Chick-fil-A, and lazy afternoons—after about a month of being back home, I started to miss Harvard, too. I knew I wanted to come back to campus early, and I was genuinely looking forward to experiencing Wintersession for the first time.
On the first weekend of Wintersession, I attended a two-day seminar on "Public Narratives" led by Marshall Ganz, an amazing senior lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government. He had worked with Cesar Chavez in the ’60s to help organize migrant workers in California; now he was giving us a crash course on cultivating public narratives as a leadership skill. Together we wrote, revised, and shared our stories within our groups before performing them in front of all the seminar participants. And in the process we had acquired all the tools we needed to craft a compelling public narrative—and to teach others how to do the same.
Throughout the next week I was an active participant in SIEPSI, the Synergy International Exchange Program for Social Innovation. This program brought together 16 Harvard students and 12 Chinese college students for a rigorous, cross-cultural introduction to social enterprise. We were split into teams with the goal of building a sustainable business model for social good, and soon became close with our teammates. Together we watched TED talks, participated in workshops on leadership and innovation, took field trips to the Harvard iLab and to Workbar, and listened to speakers ranging from start-up attorneys to successful social entrepreneurs. At the end, my team and I created our own social enterprise, pitched it to a panel of venture capitalists, and received valuable feedback on our business model—an incredible experience in and of itself. The program ended with a closing ceremony, an impromptu dance party, and tearful goodbyes to the Chinese students we had gotten to know and love during the week.
On the last day of Wintersession I attended a slam poetry workshop hosted by Speak Out Loud, Harvard's premier spoken word poetry organization. After a series of icebreakers and inspiration sessions, we worked in writing workshops led by Porsha O, the Individual World Poetry Slam Champion in 2014. She was our emcee at the Spoken Word Wintersession Showcase, where I performed my very first slam poem later that night. And as I faced a hushed audience and a spotlight, I somehow found the courage to be vulnerable in front of an open mike.
I can safely say that I was absolutely blown away by the sheer quality of Harvard’s Wintersession programming. I’ve learned more in a week here than I did in a month back home, met and spoke with experts in their respective industries, and gained skills in leadership and story-telling that will benefit me for the rest of my life.
And if J-term was just a taste of 2015, then I’m looking forward to an unforgettable spring semester.