My mom has been a public elementary school teacher since before I was born, and because I grew up seeing just how much the job demanded from her, I always believed I’d never have anything to do with education. In community college, though, I heard rave reviews about an education class, and since I was undecided on my major, I took it. I enrolled in that class expecting to learn strictly teaching strategies and classroom management. To my surprise, it was centered around exploring the social and economic forces that shape the way our society interacts with and values schools and education. It made me rethink everything I knew about not only the American school system, but our society as a whole.
The question’s been floating around dining halls and classrooms for a few weeks now, slowly and stealthily infiltrating its way into those conversations that necessitate small talk. It’s an innocent question, especially for those who have booked flights, confirmed internships, or received job offers. But to those without concrete plans, to those who have missed deadlines or didn’t get the offers or acceptances they hoped for, that question is bound to cause a little anxiety: it’s a reminder that the end of the semester is fast approaching. Summer’s right around the corner—What are you going to do?
John R. Lewis, prominent civil rights leader and congressman, was recently named this year’s Commencement speaker. Considering everything he’s accomplished throughout his life, especially during the civil rights movement and in Congress, his presence at Commencement is very timely amidst ongoing racial tensions in our country. Good choice, Harvard.
If you told me that night that exactly one year later I’d be publishing a column in The Harvard Crimson—let alone get accepted to Harvard—I would have laughed in both doubt and exhaustion-induced delirium. In truth, applying to Harvard was a spur-of-the-moment decision made to spite an ex-boyfriend who didn’t think I’d ever make anything of myself. That, coupled with the discouragement of an advisor at my community college, lit me on fire. Hell hath no fury like a woman doubted, apparently. I knew the statistics were grim; only about a dozen transfers are admitted each year, and I was pretty sure my very small, very rural community college wasn’t on Harvard’s radar. I didn’t even know anyone who’d gone to an Ivy League school. All I knew was that there were at least two people I needed to prove wrong. I didn’t give myself much time to think while I sped through my application, but once it was submitted, I wondered if I was taking things a little too seriously. Was I, in the infinitesimal chance I’d be admitted, prepared to leave my quiet, isolated corner of Virginia for urban Massachusetts? Could I survive in a city I’d never visited at a massive institution I knew almost nothing about? Would the pride of coming to Harvard be worth the struggle of transferring?
The American South is saturated by mostly unfounded negative stereotypes. In a place as vividly conscious of political correctness as Harvard, I didn’t expect those stereotypes to be so blatantly perpetuated, even though those stereotypes have been depicted in the media and pop culture for years. While combing through about a dozen Southern photo-essays for a research paper last semester, I found exactly what I expected: the South was almost exclusively portrayed in images of crazed religion, white supremacy, and above all, dire poverty. If you judged the South by these images, you’d think it was nothing more than a poor, wild, lawless wasteland. But we’re at Harvard, and we should know better than to take things at face value. To accept Southern archetypes is to foolishly dismiss the beautiful intricacies of the South I know.