Harvard is a different world. I am moving further away from my roots, supplanting myself in the University setting — a setting not understood by my family. I live with the appreciative understanding that I will have opportunities to explore places that my family was never able to, constantly juxtaposed with the “what-ifs” of where I would be if I would have picked up a trade or apprenticeship at home and how integral my family would be in that journey.
There are many ants that are unnoticed, yet they are everywhere. Start noticing them. I am not here to tell you what to go find out or what to notice, just that you notice something. And if you are lucky, you’ll find a story worth telling, an inordinate fondness of your own.
If we all wrote down these stories we have, we’d each end up with a memoir of our own. But for now, let’s keep sharing them with each other. Don’t hesitate to discover mentors in the most unlikely of places. Learn from their stories; this sharing is essential to the vitality of our community. Like riding a bike (or skating), some of these stories will stick, and become part of yours — become part of you.
For a moment, imagine holding a pencil. Can you feel its weight? Its straight edges and sharp point? Instead of understanding this possession as an abundant, limitless commodity, is it possible to instead feel the pressure on our fingertips and understand that we’re holding the weight of an entire life that has been gifted to us in the name of creativity?
We must realize that we should feel no shame in struggling or asking for help because learning at your own pace does not make you any less intelligent or worthy. We should feel successful not from competing with their peers but from building community with them through collaboration, inclusion, and compassion.
A shared space is special so long as it is actually shared, actually lived and existed in. Next time you feel the urge to study or want to lose yourself in a labyrinth, go to Widener and feel the presence of those next to you and those before you. May you find community as you get lost in the stacks.
I want to adopt the College’s mission and expose myself to “new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing.” I may not be the smartest person in the room and that’s okay. Instead, I’m aiming to train myself to step away from the constant desire to outrun everyone else and simply focus on sharpening myself.
Look up into the night sky. Even if one star is in the wrong place, there are still millions more that might tell you something meaningful about yourself. Suspend your disbelief. Ignore the over-rational voice in your mind that throws in the towel at the first inconsistency. And run away into the stars with me, into the lovely starry night of you.
What the “Houston to Harvard” mindset taught me is that dismissing the South as intrinsically “bad” is unhelpful. It’s a disposition founded upon convenience and situational truths. I am sick of the North using the South as its scapegoat in order to preserve its progressive image. There is so much more to this conversation than the convenient binary of the South being “bad” and the North being “good.”
As students across the country prepare for competitive application processes for college admissions and scholarships, low-income students are taught to garner pity while richer students are taught to garner adulation. While the majority of Harvard students have the means to write about their prowess as a learner, others are more reliant on detailing their struggles as a means to boost their successes — often, it is what we are most equipped to use.
When we go forth and define what it means to be the parents of legacy children, we have the opportunity to foster lonely thinkers and wonder-ers. To share delight over compendiums of ants, mathematics textbooks, treatises on human anatomy, accounts of the French Revolution, economic studies of ancient Rome. There are flaws that can be found in our institution, and more flaws that can be found in the world at large as a result of its graduates. However, the kindling of joy around creating and sharing knowledge must prevail as the defining meaning and legacy of Harvard College.
At Harvard, it’s so easy to feel like we are competing with one another. Indeed, in some curved classes, we do so by design, assessed not by our grasp of the course material but by our relative performance. Perhaps it’s resemblant of a mentality that got us admitted in the first place. I’ve certainly had this feeling, and it can sometimes be really hard to shake.
In this column, one thing I have mentioned, but not emphasized enough, is the value of having conversations about mental health. So, when I suddenly remembered that I needed to write the last piece for my column while over at my friend’s house on Sunday evening, I decided to ask the guys I was with a few questions about mental health — feeling like it was an appropriate way to wrap things up. And I learned more than a few things as they answered my questions (perhaps, most notably, how a few drinks could turn them into “surfer-bros”).
There are many complicated reasons why each of us consumes the food we do. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, vegan or meatatarian, we can agree that we have the right to maintain our diets of choice. Let’s work together to make sure that everyone has that right by ensuring that the diversity of meal offerings reflects the diverse preferences of Harvard’s student body.
Harvard’s proposed solution is for final clubs to have “no public parties.” This is the wrong solution. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis has famously said about speech, the remedy “to falsehoods and fallacies… is more speech, not enforced silence.” Similarly, the answer to discriminatory exclusive parties is not no parties, but more inclusive parties. Simply put, it’s time for Harvard to take parties seriously.
I can only say, the first step to becoming a Black woman, is to nurture yourself and love yourself and all aspects of your Black womanhood in whichever form it takes. The strongest river, the longest path you could ever forge is with yourself, and I will continue to do so for our future self.
Though I have spent thousands of words in this column enumerating Harvard’s problems, I will take now to offer it a solution: sound friendship. Change begins on an interpersonal level when we give each other the margins to express ourselves, to make mistakes, to be corrected, to correct, and ultimately, to feel safe in growing. Friends help us find our Veritas.
Throughout my column, I’ve set out to tell the story of meritocracy from the unique vantage point of Harvard students. I wanted to find out what it means to be successful in an economic reality that revolves around perpetual competition in a school that is the epitome of competitive. But, more importantly, I wanted to see to what extent the individuality of each student and the sum of their experiences conform to this ecosystem of endurance.
Whether a one-size-fits-all multicultural center is preferable to more narrowly tailored and culturally specific spaces is a difficult question that administrators should allow students to solve — constrained by reasonable financial considerations. But the necessity of at least one such space is not debatable. And it cannot be pushed down the road any longer.
That might be the most frustrating thing about the pro-philanthropy worldview: Bok and his supporters never deny that there’s a legitimate moral debate at hand, they never reject the pitfalls of relying heavily on donations (even if they undersell the costs and overrate the benefits). They simply lack the imagination or the will to view beyond our current funding system, discarding concerning trends as “troubling” but “inevitable.”
Perhaps, as a world, and at institutions such as this university, if the majority of people stopped considering themselves to be completely different than the minority of people with recognized mental disorders, there would be a reduction in exclusionary behavior and an increase in the empathy that reducing this stigma so desperately requires. At the same time, dismantling this binary might convince the “okay” majority to not feel as though their mental health problems are insignificant, encouraging them to seek support.
If we are going to take practical steps to address the extraordinary socioeconomic inequality and environmental degradation America’s underregulated capitalist market helped produce, Americans must stop associating regulation with socialism. Unfortunately, Republicans are not going to stop utilizing this effective — albeit inaccurate — critique. At least not until Democrats do something to counter this distorted narrative.