Right when my freshman spring ended, I went back home to my native Florida — hotly anticipating the warmth that Cambridge, in all its meteorological nastiness, still somehow, in mid-May, denied me. Finals had really wrecked me, and after a year of running blind and ragged, I arrived home so ready to soak up its comforts, and all the idyllic restoration I’d dreamed about getting at my lowest points that semester. Instead, I got pneumonia.
My sister — my bestie — and my mom — another rock star — took care of me. A little incident from this time has stuck in my head. I was on the couch, in this kind of awful, shallow anguish that you’d think was deeper from the way I complained about it. And I asked my sister to grab me some water. “Oh, the Harvard baby wants us to grab her water, she makes us do it because she thinks she’s too good for it now—” and out pours a sermon. This strikes me at the time as light teasing, but also makes me feel super touchy. It’s full of literally just the most acrid, sarcastic, indulgent things she can lob at me, unprovoked, and in hindsight, it really gets to me. In the moment, I glare at my sister and the tirade sheepishly ends. She grabs me some water, good naturedly, as she did so often over those couple of days. I sip it, and we keep on keeping on, both still each other’s best friend.
My older sister calls me “the Harvard baby” more than she calls me “Hana.” It’s a name I answer to now without really thinking about it — I know its meant for me, and I fancy myself kind of tough (jury’s still out on that one!), so I like imagining the phrase rolling right off me. It really, mostly does. It’s born in good fun — the same sort of gentle teasing that got me the nickname “Potato” when I was a toddler and once compelled me to only call my sister by her name spelled backwards.
But the collision of circumstances that created the moment above really got me thinking about what it feels like to come home from Harvard, and to feel kind of otherized by it. It’s a feeling I encounter every time I head home, each time seeking refuge.
From what exactly? I don’t know — the ickier parts of Harvard’s Harvard-yness, I guess. From the blameless weirdness of realizing that the building you’re having a meeting in is named after the family of one of your classmates. From the ceaseless, stalking pressure I’m fortunate to feel, to do something, and something worthwhile, with all this opportunity I’ve been given. From feeling different than most people who wind up here. The pomp and expectations associated with capital H Harvard can be weighty and suffocating to a person trying to figure themselves out. To come home, unable to shake the weight of it all, different because of where I’m coming home from, when all I want to feel is the warm comfort and sameness home’s always offered me, is so strange and frustrating. A total champagne problem, for sure.
It’s weird and exceptional for anyone to go to Harvard, but in the context of my school, family, and city, it’s stand-outish enough to be defining. And I kind of hate that. Sometimes I struggle to remember what defined my place in my family before college.
My mom strongly encourages that I wear my Harvard 2022 shirt at every family outing. It’s wonderful to know you’re making your parents proud. But in family photos, it’s that shirt that’s the most characteristic thing about me. My cousins, wacky, personality oozing out of the picture, flank me. And there I am — happy but tired, still reeling from all college has thrown at me — with Harvard written all over me. Often I wonder if it’s selfish or whiny to just want to take a break from it all, and blend in.
I am so beyond fortunate to go to school here. There was a moment during the spring when I was walking back from Cabot Library at 3 a.m., weighed down by stress and fatigue of my own making, and I looked up at the Yard, pausing at the thought that I was exactly where, a year ago, I’d have given anything to be. Those moments are important, but by the end of freshman year, that’s the scale those feelings of absolute awe have been relegated to: moments.
The transition from feeling like a capital H Harvard student to just feeling like someone doing their best to make their way through college felt very healthy to me. But the capital H, and the weight that comes with it, always follows me home, along with all its blessings.
And among the warmth and comfort home provides, it sits perched on my shoulder, just a little uncomfortably.
Hana M. Kiros ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Pforzheimer House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.