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“Even if we do root among the stars, we will die,” author John Green said to his packed audience at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Oct. 14.
A famed young adult writer and the author of the more recent, tongue-in-cheek reflection on human existence “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” Green did not shy away from existential crisis during the first of this year’s four lectures in the Memorial Church William Belden Noble Lecture Series. Speaking from the pulpit in the church, he discussed the temporality of human existence, existential grief, and how to maintain hope through it all in his enthralling lecture, “How the World Ends.”
A seemingly endless line pressed against the doors of Memorial Church prior to the lecture. Dozens of hopeful audience members had the area surrounding the church buzzing with excitement. Among the crowd was Boston Siebold ‘25, who expressed her anticipation while waiting to be admitted to the sanctuary.
“I’m really excited to hear him speak. I got here early, and all of a sudden, there was a line all the way to Widener,” Siebold said.
A bestselling author, co-creator of the Crash Course educational Youtube channel, and now a TikTok star, John Green has grown to possess a level of fame that warrants an immense crowd Friday.
Others in line, including Niyathi Chagantipati ‘26, had been familiar with Green’s work for a long time before dedicating their weekday evening to him.
“He got me through my history class. He’s the reason I made it to Harvard, and I think it’s so cool that I get to hear him on campus now,” Chagantipati said.
Once inside, the many fans packed into the church pews erupted with thunderous applause, laughter, and silent awe. For audience members like Lola DeAscentiis ‘26, John Green’s talk was worth the wait.
“I was at first shocked to hear John Green, who I know from Crash Course, discussing such deep and somewhat dark topics. However, I ended up really enjoying the talk and got a lot out of it,” DeAscentiis said.
Framed by the ornate design of the Church Sanctuary, Green eloquently struck a precarious balance between the levity and reverence needed to approach such a heavy topic as the apocalypse. The audience was receptive to both his humor and his earnestness, sending laughter reverberating through the sanctuary at his opening words.
“I feel like I am an elephant,” Green said. “I don’t know how to be an elephant. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Though these remarks referenced his feelings about speaking at Harvard, they also expressed the depth of confusion about human existence. Green’s lecture asked and explored the question of how we should view our existence through the lens of its termination, or in his words, how to operate in “a world we know will end.”
He examined at once the landslide of human actions tumbling toward the world’s end and the unique experience of both causing and suffering from our actions, describing this inescapable dissonance of modern human consciousness.
“[It’s] to be finite, but able to conceive of the infinite, to be mortal, but able to conceive of immortality, to be able to end ourselves, but not save ourselves,” he said.
Green emphasized that the decline in Earth’s habitability most rapidly and severely harms the innocent and vulnerable among us. “I’m sure we’re right to worry,” he added.
Far from merely outlining our plight, Green tackled the provocative question of whether or not humanity is worth saving. In the face of climate change, social injustice, and grief, are we worth the effort of delaying our demise? Green ultimately defended humanity’s bright spots.
“Holiness and goodness is right here in the midst of our world… right smack in the middle of our own little lives,” he said.
This optimism was woven throughout Green’s lecture, encouraging the audience (both those attending in-person and virtually) to improve their existence in addition to illuminating the scope of humanity’s self-forged apocalypse.
John Green’s presentation was not far removed from the legacy of the Noble Lectures, which were established in 1898 by the mourning widow of William Belden Noble, Nannie Yulee Noble. Born of grief, the Noble lecture series seeks to create hope and positivity. Green’s contribution to the series reflected an urgent call for hope — optimism for the worth of humanity, mobilized for the fate of humanity. In a way, John Green curated his lecture in memory of human existence. His words assembled a time capsule of humanity’s faults, hopes, and ideas — a poetic contingency plan for our species’ end.
Green concluded the lecture with this somber idealism. “Yes. The end is coming … but not yet.”
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