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Nearly two years ago, when I first arrived on the campus I now call home, I faced the daunting question that meets everyone who walks through Harvard’s gates: What comes next? For the first time in my life, I had a place to start, but no finish line in sight. When I was young, the finish line was clear: the top of the tree in the backyard (or, in hindsight, a branch no more than 5 feet off the ground). I grew a bit older, and the finish line shifted: get straight A’s, make the team. High school came and the finish line grew more distant: top of the class, good college. After four long years, I crossed that finish line and enjoyed the victory lap that is senior summer. Since then, while I have wondered about the next big finish line, I have not truly sought it.
Freshman year at Harvard is too much of a whirlwind to deeply ponder your next great goal; you make new friends, move into a new home, and experience new challenges and triumphs on a daily basis. Eventually, the newness of it all settles down, and it is somehow sophomore fall: time to pick a concentration! Advisors and peers alike tell you it’s no big deal, it’s not a binding contract, and it’s not a lifelong commitment. And yet you cannot help but feel the gravity of picking a direction. Of course you can change your concentration down the line, but it is suddenly more difficult to explore. You see the sheer number of classes you must take to complete the requirements, and wonder how there is any possible way to start down one path and then reach the finish line of another. When it was time for me to pick, I questioned everything. I loved computer science, but was it truly my favorite field of study? I can’t even answer when asked my favorite movie or book. There are so many stories I love; how can I choose between Harry Potter and the Avengers? And yet, like everyone else, I made a decision, and I am now quite comfortable with it.
Even with my concentration settled, the next big finish line is utterly unclear. Do I want to go to graduate school or go straight to work? Am I studying computer science to program forever or to hone it as a technical skill for a different field? In the short time since I started this piece, I have already decided to switch out of a computer science class I thought for sure I must take this semester.
Indeed, everyone around me is taking different paths, made clear by summer plans already settled in January — high caliber internships to pad the resume, jobs at the grocery store to pay tuition and save for the future, more classes to get credits out of the way. I find it difficult to pick which path to tread, knowing not what my future holds.
After all, I have always taken my steps with a specific goal in mind. Now it seems each step is into an abyss of uncertainty, hoping the light of clarity and purpose is on the other side.
When I share my uncertainty with my closest friends, I realize that only a lucky few know where their next finish line is. The majority, however, are stepping blindly. The myriad of paths taken by students at Harvard can be intimidating, but it should be viewed as a manifestation of the petrifying perplexity everyone feels. If there was a clear finish line of success and happiness and an obvious path to get there, we would all walk it together. Instead, we wander about, hoping to stumble into a path that suits us. So perhaps it is time to stop fretting about this uncertainty. For now, all we can do is embrace not knowing what comes next.
James M. Rogers ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Computer Science concentrator in Mather House.
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