Doing More than Classes


Remembering to make meaningful friendships at Harvard.



At the end of last semester, I was lucky enough to sit down with Dean Khurana for a few minutes. We talked a bit about how Harvard students go about joining, forming, and changing communities. I don’t know that this was. What Dean Khurana would have wanted me to take away from our conversation, but after reflecting on my own experience and what I’ve seen of other people’s, I think that many Harvard students (and, to be honest, people in general) sabotage their own attempts to enter into really meaningful relationships.

Let me explain that a little bit, because I don’t want to come across as a) writing form a high horse–this is a mistake that I noticed first with myself and still haven’t really figured out how to get past–or b) sounding like I think no one at Harvard has any meaningful relationship. What I mean is this: at Harvard, we are in a uniquely stressful academic environment, and that stress tends to envelop our entire existence. You know what I’m talking about; you’ve all had that meal where you sit down with a friend and both of you do nothing but complain about how busy you are. I think that tendency stems from our natural inclination to view our relationships as a break from stress. And while relationships can be a break from stress, it becomes very dangerous to think of them that way.

When and if you start to view a friend as a break from the “real” reason you’re at Harvard, it cheapens the relationship. And I think that’s so dangerous because, while Harvard is, in my opinion, the most amazing place to be in order to grow intellectually, you don’t become a complete person or a happy person if intellectual growth is the only thing that you achieve. Social and emotional growth are just as, if not, more important. So even though relationships really are a break from the academic and other stresses of Harvard, be conscious that the word break should NOT imply that you are temporarily unplugging from the real reason you’re here (academics) to focus temporarily on a secondary aspect (relationships). Rather, your relationships with your peers are an equally important part of your time in college.

Personally, this realization was one that didn’t really hit me until last semester (sophomore fall). When I thought about when I was happy versus when I was stressed/agitated/pissed off/generally disgruntled, I finally realized that it wasn’t just when I had more reading or a few papers to write, it was when I let those obligations interfere with everything else that makes me happy: extracurriculars, time to relax, and especially time to catch up with friends. So here’s my recommendation (and it seems stupid, but try it anyway): next time you get a meal with a friend and you’re stressed or your friend seems stressed, do not ask how classes are going or what they have to do this week (at least not at first). Instead ask if they’ve seen any good shows on Netflix, or heard any good new music, or if they did anything fun last weekend. Try to have a conversation that isn’t laced with the ulterior motive of complaining about or comparing how ridiculously busy you are.

Chris Riley ’17 ( didn’t ask Dean Khurana about how much homework he had.