A Letter From the Class Marshals

The Class Marshals for the Class of 2019 reflect.
By Anant T. Pai and Catherine L. Zhang

Catherine L. Zhang '19 and Anant T. Pai '19 are the First and Second Class Marshals, respectively.
Catherine L. Zhang '19 and Anant T. Pai '19 are the First and Second Class Marshals, respectively. By Amy Y. Li

Dear Class of 2019,

The conversations we’ve had since being asked to write a letter for graduation have taken us again through the journey of our last four years — the friends that have come and gone, the surprising twists and turns, and our anxieties about the future. We considered what we would want to say to you if given the chance to have a final conversation, what we’d want to encourage you to think about as we leave this place.

Our Harvard journey formally began as we stepped through Johnston Gate for the first time — the heat of the summer in our hair and a little churn in our stomachs as we were swallowed into what would become our world (or a big part of it, at least) for the next four or so years. But this journey was shaped long before then. The experiences we had, the environment we grew up in had long before molded our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations — the things we carried close to our hearts as we got here, many of us excited to change the world.

As time went on, we immersed ourselves deeply in Harvard. We not only lived among our peers. Together, we were accepted and rejected by extracurricular organizations, wrote theses and capstone projects, and participated in rallies to stand behind other members of our community. Every year, our resolutions stayed the same: to go into Boston more, not procrastinate on our papers and problem sets, watch a little less TV, and get to class on time (especially without our seven-minute grace period). As the future approached, questions of doubt filled our minds: Did we do enough in our time here? How will our peers remember us? What accomplishments did we have to define us? Were we as successful as we hoped we would be?

Despite our concern for accomplishment, the legacy that we leave behind will be something greater than the sum of the scholarship money we’ve won or the number of fancy names on prizes. What we leave behind is a legacy of kindness, compassion, and care: of helping each other in the many low moments, of offering a shoulder to cry on, of pulling an all-nighter to help edit another’s thesis, of helping someone back on their feet after rejection (often of the romantic kind, and especially with ice cream), and, crucially, of pushing each other to be better. We hope that this community is one that we’ll be able to continue to draw on for the rest of our lives. We hope that we’ll continue to laugh and cry together, to support each other through the sad times and to celebrate the happy ones.

As we ponder next steps, we consider how much our worlds after graduation will resemble Harvard. Sure, we may go abroad for some time or make decisions to do something completely out of the ordinary, but the truth is that many of us will live life surrounded by people like the peers we found at Harvard — intelligent, thoughtful, ambitious, but deeply privileged (at least in some ways). It will become easy to forget about the things that we once cared about, that once left us so heartrendingly, exhilaratingly alive. Many of us will come to value stability as we end up benefiting from a system that leaves so many behind. In those moments, we hope to step outside of our bubbles, to listen to those that are ignored, and to recommit to solving the problems we see.

In her graduation piece, Marina Keegan writes about how we have our entire lives ahead of us — that the idea that we are stuck on a particular path after graduating from college is ridiculous.

“There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious… that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving,” she writes, “[but] the notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical... We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

And with this sense of possibility as we trek into the unknown, we wanted to take the time to reflect upon the lessons that we’ve learned from this place:

  1. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It is the work that we put into our relationships that matters. No longer are we going to be a walk or bike ride away. Be intentional about holding onto and making time for the people that you care about.
  2. Your self-worth is not based upon your productivity.
  3. The journey of self-improvement never stops. Consider your values, often and critically, but have compassion for yourself along the way.
  4. Be kind. Give graciously to others, but also know your own limits.

And as important as we believe these messages to be, they are ones that we are still working to internalize ourselves. But it’s a shared journey that we are all on together.

It’s a privilege to be able to serve this inspiring community. Class of 2019, here’s to the lessons we’ve learned, to the moments we’ve shared, to the ways we’ve grown. Here’s to us.

Cat and Anant

Catherine L. Zhang '19, a Psychology concentrator in Cabot House, is First Marshal of the College's Class of 2019.

Anant T. Pai '19, an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Adams House, is Second Marshal of the College's Class of 2019.