To Myself, Prior to and in Becoming a Ghost of Harvard’s Past
By ARIANA AKBARI
The Harvard campus has shifted tectonically since I first matriculated in 2013. Incoming students will have no memory of the now-ancient relics that defined a significant portion of my own Harvard Square past – places like the Holyoke Center, Cafe Algiers, Wagamama, and Crema Cafe are all gone now. Many of the administrators and professors who influenced my own Harvard experience have met a similar fate. A great majority of my student peers have scattered across the globe and are well on their way to becoming everything from cogs in a capitalist machine to political leaders of society.
I have found that in the process of the disappearance of place and people, the memory attached to them becomes similarly dislodged. Instead of being anchored in terms of location, they’re relegated to that diaphanous area of your brain that sometimes leave you questioning “Did that even happen?” “Was that even there?” “Did they actually tell me that?”
One memory that, at this time, remains anchored to its Harvard location is etched in brick on the gate between the Science Center Plaza and the Phillips Brooks House courtyard. There, is a quote taken from a journal of Ralph Waldo Emerson, written on account of Harvard College’s 200th anniversary celebrations (in 1836, if you don’t want to do the math). I would read this inscription nearly every day of my freshman year as I walked from Annenberg to my freshman dorm, Mower Hall. It reads:
“Cambridge at any time is full of ghosts; but on that day the anointed eye saw the crowd of spirits that mingled with the procession in the vacant spaces, year by year, as the classes proceeded; and then the far longer train of ghosts that followed the company, of the men that wore before us the college honors & the laurels of the state–the long winding train reach back into eternity.”
Every day of my Harvard College career has brought me one step closer to joining Emerson’s ghostly procession. It is now, on the precipice of my own graduation that I come face to face with the inescapable – my own impending ghostness. Like the disappeared storefronts, the faculty and staff from whom I no longer receive emails, and my College peers who now exist almost singularly as smiling faces on my Instagram feed, I too will soon be gone. I sometimes wonder if I’ll also be left questioning, “Did I ever happen?”
Regardless, as the days grow longer, the number of Gen Z-era students propelling themselves to class on scooters multiply, and the infamously spectacular Cambridge sunsets make their reappearance after their lengthy winter hibernation, I know that my time at Harvard is finally up. But before I leave, here are my last bits of wisdom to bestow – from me to me – and in the process, to you too.
To myself, prior to and in becoming a ghost of Harvard’s past.
- Don’t seek inclusivity so much that you lose sight of celebrating your differences.
- Gatsby at the Fly is SO overrated. Finesse an invite to Speekonos instead.
- Write a thesis. Even if you don’t know what to write about and you’re afraid that you might actually be an idiot misplaced on a campus of geniuses. In the process you’ll learn so much about life, yourself, and your professors.
- Stay away from people with no discernable religious/moral/ethical compass to guide them.
- Cross-register in at least one class at the graduate school of your choice. It will give you insight to a different type of learning as well as a community of visual role models by which you can orient your future.
- Forget about FOMO and study abroad during the term. Also, major in the History of Art and Architecture. The professors there are just as crazy as you are and like to travel as much as you do.
- Remain deeply critical of authoritarian regimes. Especially those wearing an administrative face who make sweeping decisions that affect the student body and teaching faculty without consulting them first.
- The EPS lounge has Twinings teas and packets of Swiss Miss hot chocolate. They are left unguarded. You know what to do.
- Breakfast in Annenberg is highly underrated. It’s a 19th century secular Cathedral filled with deliciously hot food and a staff that is always happy to see you. Take advantage of its presence because you will never experience anything like it again.
- Harvard career services is one of the worst on the planet. Do yourself a favor and just email the people and companies you’re interested in working for if they’re not a consulting firm or financial institution.
- Invest. Financially, of course – because at this rate you’re going to be graduating in debt. But more than that, invest in an organization that you can give back to after you graduate. Invest in your house and in making it feel like a home. Invest in volunteering and in doing something that helps someone other than yourself. Invest in the friendships you make, and the mentorships you stumble into.
Because in this physical world, everything eventually disappears. It is only the happiness that you derive from living your life and the cumulative effect of the impact you make by living it that hold solid and compound in greatness as we all move further into our respective futures.
Ariana Akbari (firstname.lastname@example.org) is graduating with a lot of wisdom under her