Shortly after I received the email that I would be living in Holworthy 16, my dad emailed me, “Conan O’Brien is a past resident of the room.” Calm, cool, and collected, I responded, “THIS IS SO EXCITINGGGGGGGG.”
I get a kick just out of reading news articles about famous folks, so you can imagine the thrill that I derive from living in a space that a celebrity once inhabited. My room in Holworthy may have gone a bit downhill since the days in which O’Brien ruled the roost—did a future television host have to put up with a mouse infestation?—but the knowledge that Hollywood’s funniest redhead used to write Lampoon pieces by the light of my lamp helps me get through the late-night squeaking of my rodent roommates.
I am not the only one whose dorm has been graced by an up-and-coming star. Throughout Harvard’s history, budding actors, politicians, computer geniuses, authors, and other luminaries have slept (sometimes) and studied (occasionally) in the same spaces that students occupy today.
Before dropping out, Microsoft founder William “Bill” H. Gates lived in Wigglesworth A-11 in 1973. Matthew “Teddy” T. Brokaw ’18, one of the current residents of Gates’s room, recalls musing with his roommates about their Wigglesworth predecessor via Facebook last summer. They imagined, “Maybe he scratched his name into the molding in the closet or something. Maybe we’re going to find that he put his initials on his desk.” Brokaw jokes, “That evolved to, ‘Maybe we can tell girls that we live in Bill Gates’s room.’”
Brokaw and his roommate David C. Gibson ’18 are following in Gates’s footsteps by moving to Currier next year, and the two have a plan to let Gates know about their uncanny housing connection. “We’re about to send him a letter,” Brokaw says. “I was going to go with the tactic of maybe attaching some pictures or something [and saying], ‘Hey, this is what the room looks like now.’”
Rashida L. Jones ’97 spent her time at Harvard in Weld 25 and Eliot, and the actress remains proud of her roots. On July 28, 2015, when Catherine A. Polik ’18 tweeted, “Guess who [is] staying in the same freshman dorm as @iamrashidajones…,” Jones replied, “YEAH WELLLLLD!” (Jones and I apparently both express happiness by adding unnecessary letters to our words.)
In the most high-powered rooming assignment of 1965, Oscar-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones ’69, a resident of Mower B-12, lived across the hall from B-11’s Albert (“Al”) A. Gore ’69, the former vice president. Bonded, perhaps, by their impending stardom, the two then roomed together in Dunster.
“I was really surprised to learn that Tommy Lee Jones was in our room,” says Mitchell B. Edwards ’18, a current Mower B-12 occupant. “I think he’s a fantastic actor…. I loved him in ‘Lincoln.’”
One of the most interesting stories to come out of an alumnus’s dorm room involves actor Matthew P. Damon, who lived in Matthews 201 before entering Lowell. On a trip to receive the Harvard Arts Medal in 2013, Damon stopped by his former Matthews abode. (Hey Conan, if you are reading this, you are more than welcome to knock on my door at any time. Seriously. Please come visit. I have saltines and a decent futon.)
The three lucky residents of Matthews 201 that year—Adam N. Bicak ’16, James E. Golden ’16, and Veeral V. Mehta ’16—had the opportunity to meet the film star. Damon hung out in the room for about an hour, making small talk and shooting a short video for the admissions office.
“He was talking a lot about the time that he spent in the room. He talked a lot about his roommates and how he still keeps in touch with some of his entrywaymates,” Mehta remembers. “It was a great learning experience for us to talk to an [alumnus] and get his thoughts about what freshman year was like and just realize how important Harvard was in shaping his career.”
Mehta adds that Damon was “a real gentleman and just seemed like a really great guy.” The actor was such a great guy, in fact, that when Mehta asked him to record a birthday message for his mother, Damon decided to call her instead.
Other Harvard alumni who made the history books include philosopher Henry David Thoreau, a member of the class of 1877, who bopped around in Hollis from room 20 to 32 to 31 to 23. President John F. Kennedy ’40 resided in Weld 37 and Winthrop. Basketball hot-shot Jeremy Lin ’10 lived in Stoughton 26 before nabbing a spot in Leverett. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ’03 spent his time in Adams B-17, which has been gorgeously restored to conjure up how it might have looked in Roosevelt’s time. Mark E. Zuckerberg started in Straus D-11 and invented Facebook from his room in Kirkland. The list of noteworthy names goes on and on.
One day, I might take inspiration from Brokaw and Gibson and send Conan O’Brien a letter. Or maybe I will follow Polik’s lead by tweeting at him. Perhaps O’Brien, a la Damon, will pop up at my door unannounced. Or I can choose instead to reflect on what a privilege it is to attend a school through which so many brilliant minds and talented individuals have passed before me. I consider it an honor to live amongst their shadows as I strike out on my own path at this starstudded institution that we all call home.