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There comes a time for every adolescent when they begin to contemplate exactly what they want to do in life. For me, soon after I turned sixteen, I began anxiously looking at the future, taking stock of everything I’d done in my short life. My passions, my hobbies, my as-yet undefined college choices: all were methodically arranged into columns before me, of varying interests and potential career and life paths. Yet try as I might, I could not come up with anything I really cared about.
From that point, I began turning to the past—literature, music and art—to see what was truly fulfilling. I read W. Somerset Maugham’s "Of Human Bondage" and "The Razor’s Edge", two amazing books that detail the struggle for fulfillment in life amidst a judgmental, often hostile society, without the saccharine sentimentality that tends to characterize books of that nature. To follow up, I read "Walden" and "Self-Reliance", and listened to "Pippin", thus firmly cementing me as a typical misunderstood teenager searching for meaning in anything that offered answers and hope.
I entered Harvard thinking I would change dramatically and become a new person, driven by new goals, and truly find out who I would be. So far, that goal has proved evasive, though, granted, I’ve only been a student for one semester. I spent the past winter perusing Crimson Careers, the Office of Career Services, and Harvard’s study abroad websites, anxiously looking for a golden opportunity that I could apply for, and found very little I could get interested in. It created a sense of frenetic awkwardness in me for a few days, being unable to decide what I wished to do.
I won’t deny that being on a campus where everyone seems to be so effortlessly involved in intense activities and groups is daunting at times; not because of the work, but because of the unspoken assurance that everyone seems to know what they are doing. I do keep in mind that I’m not competing with others, and I have no desire to. Why, then, am I so apprehensive?
This uncertainty must run deeper in our community than we realize. I used to think the stereotype of everyone going to Harvard, graduating, and entering a lucrative career in either finance or consulting was just that: a stereotype. And while in many ways it is very much that, I have lost count of all the times I have talked to fellow freshmen or upperclassmen, or attended club, career and OCS meetings and heard those twin words uttered repeatedly as futures for us students: “finance and consulting.”
As much as it may just be misleading (after all, less than half—about 40 percent—of all Harvard students actually pursue finance or consulting careers), it’s something that I often consider. Lest it seem that I’m condemning these specific career paths and the students who choose them, I am firmly not. There are many students who pursue such life goals and find fulfillment and enrichment in their lives. It just doesn’t seem an option I want to pursue, but neither do so many other things.
“Enter to grow in wisdom,” the words above Dexter Gate on Mass. Ave. remind me, every time I walk through its pillars, on my way in, and “Depart to better serve thy country and thy kind,” on my way out. I’d like to imagine that “thy kind,” first and foremost, begins with the individual self. How can I begin to serve others if I know not how best to serve myself?
That’s the question I have put forward for myself as I continue forward: a metaphorical razor’s edge that I’m trying to pass over, unscathed. I only hope that I will succeed. Harvard seems to know the answers, or at least will give me a way to find them. I only have to trust in the future, as cliché as it sounds. But it might be true—I will only have to wait and see.
Robert Miranda ’20, a Crimson Editorial writer, lives in Holworthy Hall.
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