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Tonight at five o’clock two thousand students across the globe receive word of their acceptance to the world’s most prestigious university. Many will literally jump for joy. Most will celebrate. All will feel an odd, sudden—possibly dumbstruck—sense of surprise accomplishment.
Remember that feeling?
Those hundreds of students will dance, laugh, scream, and make frantic phone calls for hours. And the source of their utter untainted joy is that they have been given the chance to have what we already do: Harvard.
We were that excited once. Or at least I hope you were. But time has the cruel ability of making the fascinating terribly mundane. And so it is with this place. What once was enthralling is now routine. We would do well, now and again, to remember a little of that emotional rush we felt not so long ago.
Listening to friends’ memories of that day—everyone remembers it—I got distinct, yet similar narratives. I was “jumping up and down” said one. “Crying” was another. One friend chased down her parents’ car as it pulled out of the driveway. Another, after startling an elderly couple on her cruise ship, celebrated with a contraband bottle of Mexican rum. My roommate strained to suppress his excitement for the first few hours: He was attending a banquet to receive a scholarship from another university.
When was the last time we were so excited to be here? We’re so easily wrapped up in the minutiae that are the source of bitter Facebook statuses and meaningless brain break conversations that we’ve forgotten to occasionally step back and see the big picture: We are—right now, everyday—living a dream that we had for many months or years. Yet we often feel inclined to overlook that in the frantic pursuit of the next “dream,” the next great achievement, the next great job. Songwriter John Lennon once noted that “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.” One might say that too often “Harvard is what happens when we are busy making other plans.”
I give tours for the admissions office, so I get to speak to hundreds of eager students (and their much-too-eager helicopter parents) each month. So many want so badly what we have. They travel great distances to wander the campus and glimpse the storied buildings to see that to which they aspire. We stroll past them every day but would much prefer to stare down at our iPhones. We pass the time on “I Saw You Harvard,” but when was the last time we really saw Harvard?
So take a moment. Set aside the problem set. (It will get done.) Put down the LSAT book. (You have plenty of time.) No! Don’t set down this paper yet. (You will miss my point.) And take a deep breath, recall that feeling, and let yourself smile. You are at Harvard. Our four years here is not merely a stepping stone; it is an end unto itself.
Now, this is not an invitation to be self-congratulatory or excessively prideful. That would render us unworthy of the privilege we have. You will recall that a couple months ago, Brian Bolduc on this page reminded us—rightfully so—that our being here requires a certain respect and humility. This, however, is about being sufficiently and regularly thankful—and joyful—for an incredibly coveted experience.
Whether we attributed our acceptance to Harvard as the product of luck, blessings, or hard work, it was worth celebrating. And it’s worth remembering and appreciating. But what will we be doing at five o’clock this evening? Rushing into a dining hall to discover, “Chicken Français again?” Fretting over another job application? Agonizing over next year’s rooming situation? Regretting last Saturday’s poor choices (or lack thereof)?
Instead, at five o’clock today, exhale and think back to that moment you found out that you would have the opportunity to be where you are right now. Remind yourself: We’re living our dream. Enjoy it. And then ask around, “What is your memory?” I promise you the stories will be worthwhile, and they will perhaps remind you that whatever is on your mind is not so troublesome.
But you really don’t have to wait till this evening. Do it now, whatever time it is. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere.
Mark A. Isaacson ’11 is a government concentrator in Kirkland House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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