A Letter to Freshmen



Ramblings, Nostalgia, and Life-Hacks

Harvard Independent Logo

Dear Class of 2018,

First of all, I would like to welcome all 1,665 of you to Harvard. Second, congratulations of completing your first of many shopping weeks. As cliché as this may sound, your time at college will include some of the most exciting, frustrating, sad, challenging, happiest, once-in-a-lifetime moments you will ever experience.
While I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I had freshman year for the world, I do want to pass on some of the wisdom I have acquired during my time here. If I had been privy to some of Harvard life-hacks, I probably would have had fewer awkward moments and gone on more adventures.

I think the word that best summarizes my time at Harvard has been change. There are so many adjustments and transformations you will undergo during college, and I think accepting that early on will make the process slightly less bumpy. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn knew it is okay to not ‘be the best.’ Coming from my rural high school where I was ‘the best’ and then moving to an environment where everyone else was ‘the best’ or ‘the best of the best,’ was a harsh reality check for me. However, once I acknowledged that it was okay to be average, I started enjoying my classes more and I became less stressed out.
College has also changed my world view; my classes, my friends, my extracurriculars, and my new environment have caused me to question a lot of the notions I took with me to Harvard. Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of this process is how friends from home and even how your parents might react. The whole, “Don’t let Harvard Change you” speech will become a real thing. But you should push back and let Harvard change you as much as you change Harvard.

Two last rambles before I move on: 1) it’s okay to not be fine, and 2) Harvard isn’t perfect. Most upperclassmen, myself included, will tell you that at one point or another they have donned the “I am fine” mask. I want to emphasize over and over again that it is OKAY to not smile, laugh, do well on that p-set, get on that list, be selected for that position, to trip in the dining hall, watch your crush walk away with someone else, etc. I can almost guarantee that on the days that you feel at your lowest, someone else is feeling that way as well. Harvard also has institutional and informal resources: the Bureau of Study Counsel, UHS Mental Health Services, peer counselors, OSAPR, your PAF, your friend from a cappella, someone that you volunteer with at PBHA, or whoever who feel comfortable enough to talk to.

So Harvard isn’t perfect. There are many times when I question how on earth we continuously maintain our reputation as the most prestigious university in the world. I mean some of the policies Harvard has finally adopted have been instituted at other universities for several years. Don’t be discouraged though, several of your classmates are working everyday to make Harvard a better, more inclusive space.

Beyond institutional perfection, don’t expect to have the ‘perfect’ Harvard experience. There is no single way to experience Harvard. With that being said, try new activities, take a class outside of your normal interests, and try different social spaces.

Before I close out, I want to impart some advice I have collected from several upperclassmen that I wish I knew when I was a freshman.

1) Don’t get a MicroFridge from HSA.
2) You can make your own chicken quesadillas in the dhall using grilled chicken, tortillas, cheese, and the Panini press.
3) Taking electives pass-fail can be a great thing.
5) Take freshmen seminars! It’s a great way to ease into college classes.
6) Don’t be afraid to say no to: friends, extracurriculars, peers, and most importantly, yourself.
7) Don’t be afraid to be ashamed to ask for help academically, mentally, emotionally, socially, etc.
8) Fulfill your SPU requirement freshman year.
9) Have real conversations with people. Instead of asking “How are you,” ask “How is your soul” because ain’t no body got time to hear about how many p-sets you have due tomorrow.
10) Visit the Women’s Center (Canaday B Basement), because like the staff there is flawless. They also have free tea and coffee!
11) Go to the upperclassmen houses on the river and get toilet paper for days; way more than the 2 rolls Yard Ops gives you.
12) Try to eat in all 12 upperclassmen dining halls before the end of your freshman year…yes, 12. Give the Quad some love!
13) Never, ever use a tray in Annenberg. This will minimize your food waste and when you are in a rush, you can put your dishes on someone else’s tray to avoid the tray traffic jam.
14) Boylston Basement has the cleanest (and gender neutral) bathrooms.
15) It’s OK to leave. Whether it is your extracurricular or your concentration you think you are supposed to do but hate, the “friend” circle that doesn’t feel right, even Harvard itself. You don’t have to tough it out and hope it gets better. Sometimes it’s braver and better to leave.
16) Make fizzy juice in Annenberg by mixing 2/3 juice with 1/3 sparkling water.
17) Gloves that let you text are necessary.
18) Work the HUDS staples and get creative in Annenberg.
19) Try to find study spots at Harvard’s various graduate schools.
20) If you ask for a tall coffee in a grande cup (or a grande coffee in a venti cup) at Starbucks, sometimes the barista will take pity on your poor caffeine-addicted soul and just give you some free extra coffee. Also, the Starbucks by Pinkberry is open until 1 am for your late-night, dhall-coffee-won’t-cut-it caffeine needs.
21) You don’t have to do all the reading. Really, you don’t.
22) Use the Writing Center! They are really useful in editing your papers.
23) Before you buy a textbook, try looking for the online PDF version first.
24) Use Foodler to get late night food delivery to your dorm.

Even though this isn’t a complete list, I hope this gets you all started to a wonderful first year of college.

Shaquilla Harrigan ’16 (sharrigan01@college) is trying not to live vicariously through the class of 2018.