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Two days ago as I travelled from the airport to my house after completing sophomore year, my mom and I made a pit stop at Panera to grab a late dinner. Inevitably we ran into a slight acquaintance who didn’t realize that I had gone to Harvard for the past two years. After maneuvering through the “Where do you go to school?” question and the “in Boston” response, which is always followed by “Oh, what school in Boston?” I hesitatingly answered, after an internal expletive, “Harvard.” We all know what happens after this. Dropping the H-bomb even when coerced into it can produce a variety of reactions, but there is always a strong one. This time it was the questions. “Harvard, huh, do you like it?” “It must be really difficult, but you must be really smart, right?” “How much does it cost?” “How’d you get in?” “What’s it like there?” “What were your SAT scores?” “What do you do there?”
The list goes on and on and on. From the inappropriate SAT and family financial status questions to the unanswerable “How did you get in?” (wouldn’t I like to know) question to the much more normal college experience questions, we get these a lot. Just ask my teammate, who, during our tournament, was literally followed around a Goodwill store between games by members of a certain men’s club basketball team who wanted desperately to know her SAT score (and probably her number, but that’s a different story). However, this time what really struck me about her questions was the never asked, but very much underlying question, “What is Harvard?”
This is a doozy of a question—one with a plethora of possible answers depending on the context, your experiences, and even your mood. Two days ago, though, it hit me that the responses to another popular question could provide a pretty accurate answer to “What is Harvard?” It’s a question that has been part of every Harvard conversation recently: “What are you doing this summer?”
In the summer, Harvard comes alive. During the year, Harvard students certainly do incredible things. The classes we have to take, the assignments we must do, and even our extracurricular commitments, regulate our lives. Even though we each have unique classes and activities, our ultimate schedules stay fairly similar. In the summer, though, our true interests and passions emerge. We travel to the Middle East, work at summer camps that promote peace between students in Israel and Palestine, raise HIV/AIDS awareness in Tanzania, dedicate ourselves to start-ups, or work long hours in internships to try to figure out where our futures lie. Simply, we do everything in pursuit of our passions.
How does this define Harvard, though? Our summers define Harvard because our summers are what we came to Harvard for. Ultimately, we chose to go to Harvard because we wanted to have to opportunity to find and pursue our passions. During the year, we prepare for our futures and expand our minds, but though Harvard may grant us an opportunity for a better education, students at any other university attend classes for the same reason. However, in the summer Harvard students’ paths diverge from those of other students. Harvard gives us not only the opportunity to pursue our passions, but also the opportunity to see and change the world in a way that is very unique.
So what is Harvard? On the verge of the end of school for the year, Harvard is anything and everything. Harvard is internships. Harvard is globetrotting. Harvard is service projects and start-ups. Harvard is having the chance to do something truly incredible for three months. So take that. Make use of the opportunities that Harvard gives you and run. Change the world, discover yourself or maybe just have a ton of fun. We only get three college summers, so take advantage of them. Harvard grants us a wonderful chance to truly be ourselves and do what we want to do during the summer, so do it. Have a great summer!
Tessa A.C. Wiegand ’15 is an engineering sciences concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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