Earlier this year, in April, on the second day of Visitas, there was a moment in which I, as I tend to be at that time of year, was in the midst of giving an impassioned speech to a group of pre-frosh, explaining why Harvard is superior to Yale, in every single way — and yes, that’s taking into account some of the uglier buildings on our campus — when, in one of the (rare) moments when I paused for breath, one of my friends interrupted me.
Last Friday, one of my peers was brutally arrested by Cambridge police, police sworn to protect him and me alike. He, a lone individual, was surrounded by multiple officers. They threw him on the ground. They held him down as one officer punched him repeatedly. He cried out for help. They responded with even more force. This was a public assault. It occurred in response to a vulnerable individual who was in desperate need of aid. And it occurred not just despite, but in the shadow of the towering prestige of this institution.
It was the worst type of moment—I was walking across the Quad lawn, calm and slow, texting on my phone, aware that it was 8:48 a.m. and the shuttle would be leaving in two minutes. And then, suddenly, I looked up. Almost as if in slow motion, I watched the shuttle pull up in front of the SOCH, watched a crowd of my peers board it, and watched it roll away.
For the entirety of my college experience, I’ve eschewed the dramatic international destinations of my peers—Beijing, Barcelona, St. Barts. Instead, every chance I get, I go home to Baltimore.
We’ll start at the heart of campus, right here in Harvard Yard. Turn to your right—no, not that right, your other right. Do you see it? It’s a beautiful church. Yes, the steeple is gorgeous and perfectly pristine. There’s a reason we’re starting here. This church defines the Harvard experience: Every year during Opening Days, the new freshman class gathers in front of its steps for Convocation. Four years later, that same class gathers here once more for Commencement. Even if a student never attends the morning services, Memorial Church is where the Harvard journey begins and ends.