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Harvard Provides Reasons to Marvel

By Catherine E. Coppinger, Crimson Staff Writer

In addition to the six million items stored on-site at Widener Library, at least 100 titles are delivered each morning to the area behind the circulation desk. Most of them I’ve never read and probably never will. Yet as a function of my term-time job, two days a week, each of these books passes through my hands.

The process is a rather humbling one because it’s an implicit rethinking of what they told you when you received that Harvard acceptance one spring day four years ago. They told you that you had successfully memorized enough vocabulary words and math facts to last a lifetime—or something like that.

The reality is, in the grand spectrum of things, we know very little. And that’s ok.

Goethe once wrote, “The highest thing a man can attain is to marvel.” In other words, the greatest knowledge is that knowledge itself is unfathomably vast.

Ulysses, as described by Tennyson, echoes this idea in his attempt “to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”

It is the quest for knowledge, and not the possession of it, that motivates the true student. Like Ulysses’ sinking star, it will always elude more than a split second’s grasp as the human eye chases it. Or maybe the student is the star, compelled unendingly toward the unknown. No one knows for sure.

But I do know this: I’ve learned more from my interactions with all of you—on the field, courtside, in the Sports Cube, in the middle of Weeks Footbridge, in a booth at the Kong—than I have from any class here, and that includes CS50. That’s not to say I haven’t learned a lot from four years of course instruction. But I do believe that our relationships are what make a place like Harvard so special—what makes it possible to be wiser now than we were four years ago. In short, we can take comfort in the fact that our collective knowledge is much greater than that of any individual. That someone out there actively requested to read that book you’ve never seen before.

Along those lines, the main thing I will take away from my Harvard education is an increased capacity for wonder. That, and an unequivocal gratitude for the time I’ve been able to spend learning from each of my teammates (in all senses of the word).

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I have yet to mention a single sporting event, given that my two main activities on campus—varsity soccer and The Crimson’s sports board—have everything to do with athletics.

You’re right to question me there. If I were to add up all the hours I dedicated in some capacity to college sports and compare that number to any other relevant one (including hours slept), the results would border on comedy.

The fact is, most of the moments that lead me to marvel at this university are, at least in some way, related to athletics.

Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard embrace in the conference room on the second floor of Lavietes Pavilion after they learn of Princeton’s loss to Brown, securing the outright conference championship.

Six sports editors gather on the roof to watch the sunrise after sending last year’s Commencement Issue to the presses.

An ecstatic and somewhat frantic coach Ray Leone jumps into the Charles River after a victory clinches our most recent Ivy League title.

The late Joe Walsh smiles in a way only he can and launches into a descriptive analysis of the entire baseball game just played, without being asked a single question.

A group of young women belt out Beyonce’s “Halo” on the bus ride home from Columbia.

All those times our campus “believe[d] that we will win.”

In short, the entire college experience is reason to marvel—especially those moments we earn in the wake of time spent giving ourselves over to the good of a collective cause.

And while our time at Harvard is finite, opportunities to pursue knowledge abound. Even as we leave this place to do whatever we’ve chosen, we are blessed with innumerable possibilities. There’s really no telling where any of us will be in 20 years, which of the countless books we’ll decide to read. And that is something worth celebrating.

Since we’ve reached the end of my allotted word count—and our time at Harvard—I’ll leave you with a piece of one of my favorite childhood stories. It seems to fit here, given that, for me, it served as a sort of beginning.

“Take a farewell look at the waves and the sky,” writes Robert McCloskey. “Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going.”

As college students and as graduating seniors, we have reached that “Time of Wonder.”

—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CatCopp.

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