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Every weekend, without fail, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of FOMO — fear of missing out — when I open social media and see what my friends from home are doing at college. They go to college bars, darties, open parties, tailgates — you name it.
I often cannot help but wonder: “What if I didn’t get into Harvard?”
When I chose Harvard, I knew that I would not be getting the traditional college experience I had always envisioned. I assumed that I might not have nearly as much of the classic college fun as my family and friends would at their state schools. I accepted this because I knew that the opportunities that would be afforded to me at Harvard would exceed anything any other school could offer me.
Perhaps hopefully, in the weeks before I arrived on campus, I thought to myself “how bad could the social life be?” After all, we are (for the most part) still a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings who should be hard-wired to break rules, make mistakes, do stupid stuff, and — most importantly — have fun.
I was wrong.
I quickly realized that our campus culture is needlessly averse to fun — the social scene is exclusive, students are preoccupied with their professional futures, and administrative restrictions often make things even worse. For those like myself, who expected to have a relatively normal college experience, this can be disheartening.
While my friends at other schools are going out to bars, parties, socials, or date nights, I have to cajole my friends to go out with me — that is, on the off chance that I even find an event both accessible and fun.
Even days that are supposed to be rowdy — Yardfest, Harvard-Yale, Housing Day — are tainted by strict policies, tailgate bans, and conflicting class times.
Friends at other schools are often shocked to hear that readings, papers, and problem sets keep Harvard students in on a Saturday night, but I have heard these excuses more times than I would like to recall. When I tell friends here at Harvard this, they rarely seem surprised — and often sympathize with the party-pooper.
Therein lies the problem.
We have accepted a culture on campus where perfection comes at the expense of fun.
It’s no wonder we are one of the most stressed-out colleges in the country.
The University itself reported in the 2020 “Report of the Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health” that normal collegiate levels of stress and pressure “appear to be amplified at Harvard.” This is due in part, it found, to students feeling “pressure to make the most of their time at Harvard” and “tak[ing] on too many commitments, feeling guilty if they are not as busy as everyone else seems to be.”
There are a number of underlying factors that contribute to these pressures, and many are not specific to Harvard. I am not suggesting that we can make all of our stress suddenly disappear by throwing caution to the wind on Friday and Saturday nights.
As students, there are factors affecting the social scene that are outside our control, but we cannot allow this reality to bring us to nihilism.
If we collectively decide to lessen the pressure that we put on ourselves and act our age, would we not be happier? I know I would.
This could take a variety of forms. Host the kinds of gatherings you want to see — from open and energetic parties to more intimate gatherings with friends — or try new things, like a trip into Boston or attending a Harvard sports game and encouraging friends to join. While this change starts at the level of the individual, a real culture shift will require a group effort.
The atmosphere of stress and anxiety — much of it self-imposed — permeates our campus so totally that these straightforward prescriptions are not nearly as realistic as they should be.
We don’t need to have our entire lives figured out. One night out will not erase the effort, passion, and care you put in every other evening that week. In any event, a not-quite-perfect GPA from Harvard will not lead you into financial ruin — the world will keep on turning.
With a new semester upon us I am begging: Can we please take a step back and start acting like kids?
Henry P. Moss IV ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a History concentrator in Eliot House.
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