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Columns

Harvard Glasses

It’s the students that set Harvard apart

By Tessa A.C. Wiegand

At 5 p.m. on admissions day 2011, I sat by myself on my bed, told myself that Vanderbilt (which I’d already gotten into) would be a fun four southern years for a northern girl, closed my eyes, and opened my rejection emails—except they weren’t. The moments that followed are still surreal as I stared at an email from Harvard University that started with “I am delighted to inform you.” I re-read the first lines of that email 10 times and then I closed the email just to check that it wasn’t a mistake, but, magically, when I re-opened the email it still said that I had gotten in.

The afternoon after that was one I’ll never forget. I shouted to my mom over the balcony and she came running into our living room in disbelief. Then she and my younger brother started to do what could only be described as a touchdown dance, while I called my dad who was travelling for work. When I got his voicemail, I left him a composed message and proceeded to call him another five times, more excited each time. My life changed dramatically at that moment. I went from being a high school student who had the world in front of her to a high school senior who had the world through Harvard glasses in front of her. At the time, though, I really had no idea what I would see through those glasses.

The opportunities that Harvard gives its students, or my so-called “Harvard glasses,” are what set Harvard apart from other institutions. It’s why, according to the oh-so-reputable College Confidential, prospective students cry before opening their admissions emails and why tourists take picture of freshmen carrying their laundry from Straus to Weld and are rumored to have on occasion asked students to bless their babies.  The interesting thing, though, is that of the many, many opportunities Harvard offers its students, it’s perhaps the most humble that are the most important.

Yes, Harvard has a gorgeous campus. Yes, George W. Bush’s economic advisor taught my introductory economics class. Yes, Lady Gaga and various countries’ presidents have been on campus in the last year. Yes, many Harvard students check their emails during March and find they have been given several thousand dollars to study abroad for the summer. Those are obviously very amazing aspects of Harvard, but they are not what define Harvard.

Ultimately, despite the benefits of Harvard’s resources and reputation, I learn linear algebra in Applied Math 21b, which is similar to the linear algebra of any other college. Lady Gaga and the president of Argentina don’t sound that much different on YouTube than they sound in person, and I hear that if you take introductory economics at other schools, the teacher actually encourages you to buy an earlier copy of Mankiw’s textbook. So what does Harvard have that causes celebratory touchdown dances?

It’s the students. My peers are stunning. From the moment I moved into a freshman entryway, my peers included a published author, a math whiz who claimed he wasn’t, a girl who had won a national championship for guard (the flag twirlers in the band), and 20 other incredible students. The stories that would casually and unexpectedly be told were mind-blowingly impressive. Yet this phenomenon was certainly not just a feature of my entryway. On the greater Harvard campus I met students who had solved previously unsolved math problems, started a national youth congress, and travelled the world. Suddenly, I was in a place where working to cure cancer by the age of 21 was not unrealistic and 2 a.m. conversations ranged from educated debate about the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage and women priests to discussions about U.S. economic policy.

As amazing as all this sounds in writing, it’s too easy to forget that the people make Harvard Harvard. When we increasingly become involved in classes, research, and internships, it becomes too easy to let our peers slip by us. This past weekend, I managed to attend both a show in the Adams Pool Theater and a men’s volleyball game, and I was struck by just how awesome both the cast and team were in their respective roles. Never again will we be in a situation where the incredible people per capita is even half as high as it is now, so why not take advantage of it?

This year, 2,029 students were offered admission to Harvard. To them, Harvard is brand new and shiny. Even though Harvard tends to tarnish a bit as we spend four years here, we must remember that our peers never stop sparkling. Take advantage of their talents and conversations because after these fleeting four years, we may never have the opportunity to do so again.

To the Class of 2017, welcome to Harvard. Enjoy your admitted student status and enjoy Harvard’s shininess. And when you get here in August, enjoy your peers—they are your Harvard glasses.

Tessa A.C. Wiegand ’15 is an engineering sciences concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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