As the semester progresses, most courses develop an unofficial, semi-permanent seating arrangement of sorts, a passive agreement amongst students to minimize chaos. By late September, we find ourselves surrounded by the same set of lecture hall neighbors, carefully stepping over familiar rows of backpacks as we make our way to our seats.
However, about a month ago, a young man breached the seating treaty during one of my Thursday courses. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared; my early arrival to lecture guarantees me my preferred seat. What sets this young man apart isn’t his contempt for the unspoken laws of lecture, but rather how he led me to discover my greatest regret.
I generally consider myself well-disciplined. The Facebook feeds and shopping sprees that adorn the sea of lecture hall laptop screens rarely distract me. I once prided myself in paying attention to even the dullest of lectures; doing so granted me a feeling of superiority over my distracted peers, as if simply facing forward somehow made me a better student.
However, the seat thief does not indulge in your typical lecture hall distractions; instead, he plays a flight simulator version of Google Earth. The simulator itself isn’t all that exciting, and its graphics are subpar at best. Moreover, his virtual piloting skills are atrocious; he has yet to stick a single landing since he claimed the seat to my three o’clock.
Originally, I believed myself to be better than the seat thief. I paid attention in class; he didn’t. I came to class on time; he didn’t. I was a respectful student; he wasn’t. Nevertheless, as October came and went, I found myself increasingly unhappy; the lectures had largely devolved into a series of cheesy business platitudes. Meanwhile, the seat thief smiled away as he crashed his plane time after time, oblivious to the speaker’s worthless anecdotes. And that’s when it hit me: I was the time-wasting fool.
This past semester was supposed to vindicate me. I’ve worked hard over these past three years, believing that my prioritization of academics would soon pay off. Yet, despite my disdain for procrastination, my senior year has proven far less enjoyable than I had imagined. Rather than reward me for my diligence, life has instead smacked me with additional busywork. In my attempts to complete everything on time, my personal life has withered. I now seldom call my girlfriend, and the weekly Skype sessions with my brother have all but ceased. And yet, the pile of documents on my desk continues to grow.
I don’t hate demanding work; nothing grants me greater satisfaction than lying in bed peacefully, knowing that I’ve completed the day’s tasks. Nevertheless, I wrongly assumed that, in exchange for my industrious habits, the lords of life would respect my personal space. But, as the time for those I love has dwindled, I’ve come to question whether all the time I’ve spent studying was worth anything. All the courses I’ve taken—save Russian—have little (if anything) to do with my future. Ironically, Harvard gives me no credit for the one mandatory Army class I must take every semester, the course most pertinent to my military career.
On September 20, I was informed that I would join the Army’s Active Duty service component following Commencement. If all goes well, I’ll report to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., for Basic Officer Leader Course sometime this summer. Although I welcomed the news, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret as the weeks went by. I had always known that I would join the Army upon graduating; thus, college wasn’t a question of where I was going, but rather what I would do before I got there. And to be frank, I made the wrong choice.
When soldiers ask me what I did in college, I’ll have a boring reply. I spent most of my evenings in libraries with books I doubt anyone reads or cares to read. I spent my afternoons at lectures that people wiser and smarter than myself rarely bothered attending. Moreover, most of my peers, despite their incessant shopping and scrolling, will likely find great financial success in fields far safer than my own. It’s not that I’m jealous; I wholeheartedly wanted (and still want) to make a commitment to military service. I’m simply upset that I bought the perverse lie that plagues prestigious institutions, namely that your grades will somehow reimburse you for your lost time, time that you should’ve spent developing the relationships that matter most.
Last Thursday, the seat thief exited the flight simulator, opting to play online golf instead. I was disappointed; golf is boring in real life, so why would anyone exchange virtual flight for virtual golf? Curious, I opened my computer and searched for the flight simulator. Unfortunately, my laptop died mid-lecture before completing the download.
Later that evening I called my girlfriend, and for the first time in a while, I felt at peace. We talked for an hour, and before I knew it, I had gone to bed without having completed my history readings. When I woke up, I glanced at my agenda and was slightly bothered that I hadn’t checked the box next to “Thursday’s readings.” I crossed off the task and smiled; after three years, I had finally learned to care less.
Nathan L. Williams ’18 is a Government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.
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