These Walked Streets

By

A very broad meditation on certain tidbits of the Harvard experience.

By ANDREW LIN

As someone who can neither drive nor even ride a bike, walking (with some occasional help from the Mather shuttle) has by necessity become my main mode of transport around Harvard throughout my four years here. And while some might deride the slow pace walking necessarily imposes as a limiting factor in the endless hurly-burly of Things to be Done and Places to Be that Harvard can often seem like, I for one have come to rather enjoy these walks. Indeed, they’ve become so much more than a simple means of getting around; rather, they have offered the mental breathing room for contemplation of these four years, of the trials and travails of undergraduate life and of nebulous considerations of that which lies beyond these hallowed gates and ivied walls.

Most of all, however, I will remember all these walks for the views they have afforded me of this wonderful and rich campus in all its glory. Diagrammed from above, the Harvard campus at first seems to resemble a crazy spider-web of tangled streets and aged names: the Yard and the main campus is the large and powerful corpus of the spider itself, and it casts its threads northward past Northwest Labs to the Quad and southward through the variegated river houses to its southern-most outpost, its solemn concrete crow’s-nest on Cowperthwaite Street. But in pounding these streets, I have come to know the many threads of this constellation of a campus in closer detail: the wonderful shadowplay of the stonework of Widener’s flanking walls on a sunny morning, the bricked-up windows of the Fogg and the grey grid of the McKay laboratories, the perched-on-stilts look of the SOCH.

Four years ago, these places would have seemed alien to me, mere geographical markers on Google Maps or a lab group website. But the memories that live within these walls and paths, the exams to which I have rushed and experiments I have crafted and Indy articles whose inspiration has flowed from the paths I have trod – those now imbue these once-meaningless place names with a Proustian memory all their own. Like that madeleine’s callback, the sights and sounds and smells of the campus invariably now are callbacks of their own to four tremendous and fascinating years. And as I plod my way along these walks in my twilight years on this campus, I find myself still building on these experiences, adding brick by brick another memory recalled, another conversation at these steps or at that gate, another connection made or idea realized.

For you, my hitherto-unaddressed readers, these memories might be something different altogether; I shan’t speculate on these, for perhaps the most precious quality of memory is the personal and individual imprint it offers, an imprint that is singular to you and the experiences and decisions that have brought you here to this campus and maybe even to reading this article. But in a broader sense, we all share the same basic experience: across the concentrations and secondaries and extracurriculars, we have all shared in the experience of this campus and its glories and foibles. And we have seen it change as well: whether in the snaking extensions to

Allston or the loss of Greenhouse to a shiny and new Clover outpost, we do see the future marching into the time that is left of our experience here.

But to contextualize this change, to consider how Harvard has evolved via changes little and large, is beside the point: notionally this is a meditation on people, not on the institutions in which they operate. Yet considering these institutions is an essential part of understanding how people live and operate, especially at the undergraduate level: four years as an undergraduate is bound to leave the imprint of a place on anyone. So to the institution we look, and there is something comforting to see: though we change once we leave these walls, the institution we leave behind shall endure, for Harvard has been and will continue to be long after we have all graduated and gone on to our varied futures.

And yet this institution does offer an individual flavor to each of its students, a flavor that shall like that madeleine linger onwards as an imprint in our pliant minds. Certainly this imprint finds some measure of its permanence in the oft-spoken impact Harvard students may notionally have. And indeed it is a valid statement: the memories we take from Harvard enrich us not only as individuals but as members of a wider community, ready and willing to take the lessons that we have learned throughout these years and apply them to a nation and a world looking for questions and answers and solutions and ideas. But at the individual level, not merely in terms of this one individual who has penned this little reflection but for of all us graduating seniors, those memories shall walk with us wherever we go, keeping stalwart company and bearing gifts all their own.