August is a unique vantage point for me to look forward to life at Harvard and to reflect on my gap year away from it. Please join me for a last adventure through some of the landscapes of my memories and my lessons learned.
First, climbing mountains always leads to achieving good perspective. I trekked for four days on the outer rim of Kathmandu, Nepal, and my final climb on the peak was up a half-finished building with no walls. On the roof, I watched the sun set over hills draped in curling smoke. In Hong Kong, I scaled a sharp mountain path, the “Dragon’s Back,” that ended in a quaint surf town at the bottom. I cooled off drinking a coconut on the beach. I witnessed the sunrise over earthy plateaus and the Judean desert from Mount Masada. And from a perch in Puerto Rico, I looked over a pure rainforest amidst a cacophony of wild fauna. Each time, the physical height gave me an incredible life perspective, because each peak was a reflective moment when I could ask myself, “How did I get here?”
As summer ends and we think about classes to shop and reunions with friends, we may also think about how to re-engage with Harvard after a summer away. I’ve been away for over a year on my gap year, and during that time small things calcified Harvard’s image in my mind as a gloomy place. Out of the Harvard ecosystem, many friends felt safe to confide in me the depth of their struggles and loneliness. I talked with friends about the toxic environment in Winthrop House last semester under the leadership of former Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan. And I scrolled through the anonymous grim confessions on the Harvard Confessions Facebook page of students feeling unappreciated and unsupported. Harvard exists to serve its students, but sometimes that’s hard to seriously believe.
My answer is different this year than in years past when friends ask me how I feel about returning to campus. I tell them: this time, I’m collecting armor. During my gap year, I wrote down and sought out lessons about myself to remember when I returned, accruing an arsenal of stress-relief coping mechanisms. But my most cherished tool in this stockpile was one I never expected.
It was a fancy-cheese-platter kind of dinner party with conversation as light and bubbly as the champagne. As we sat politely, the conversation slowly took a turn for the worse, from general groanings about President Donald Trump to local L.A. politics and finally to the homelessness crisis, all while retaining an airy detached tone.
It became too much for Lisa, the woman next to me. She interrupted, agitated, “But it doesn’t matter what we do! We talk and donate, but nothing will change unless big people start to care about little people. And they never will.” We awkwardly sipped our drinks.