It was 10 a.m. and I finally decided it was time to go to sleep—having been up since the day before. Although I have pulled my fair share of all-nighters to finish assignments, this time I had stayed up talking with one of my roommates.
My roommates and I have shared many late nights, for reasons ranging from insomnia, to classwork, to our inability to stop talking to each other. As a result of all our bonding, we can often communicate without speaking, creating our own version of the old-married-couple dynamic. In fact, my roommates have become part of my extended family. They’re not just temporary surrogates, there for me during my years away from home; I hope they will forever be a part of my life.
The similarly close relationships I have formed with other dear friends here can also be found in various incarnations across Harvard and on other college campuses. There is something about taking a group of young people, putting them in the same place for four years (give or take a few), and telling them to work, live, and play together that facilitates connections unlike the relationships formed in any other parts of life.
My time at Harvard marks the first time I have spent four years at one school. My dad’s job kept our family on the move every two to three years when I was growing, so I attended a grand total of seven different schools, in five cities and three countries. During my many transitions, I made many friends and lost contact with just as many. In the days before Facebook, Skype, and instant messaging, maintaining relationships over such long distances was challenging. That is not to say it was impossible, but even with new technology, I often failed at keeping up my previous friendships while trying to get used to my new community.
As a result, when I began reflecting on the singular strength of my college friendships, I initially attributed it simply to the length of time I’d been able to spend in one place, solidifying my relationships. But after talking with friends who were born and raised in the same city—who went from elementary school through high school with the same group of classmates and friends—I realized that something else might be at work in fostering college bonds. The friendships those friends had made at college were also special, even though they’d existed a mere four years—or less.
Regardless of how we grew up and the nature of the friendships we made before college, many of us left home to live away from our families for the first time. We left not only to get a liberal-arts education, but also to grow into the independent adults we are expected to be after graduation. We left to learn about ourselves, to discover who we are, and who we want to be—whether we realized it or not as we arrived in Cambridge freshman year.
Although I am fundamentally the same person I have always been, I have grown up a lot in the past four years. In fact, I feel as if I have matured compared to just a couple of months ago. College is a time of exponential growth, at a pace substantially different from that in middle school or high school.
All of the discoveries and struggles of the past four years I made with my friends. We were there for each other during those late nights and overdue assignments, when textbooks might have been thrown and loud exclamations about our frustrations might have been uttered. On those days when getting to the dining hall before it closed seemed impossible, we prepared meals for each other. My friends have encouraged my growing passion for cinema, were just as excited as I was when I started my secondary field in film studies junior year, and have lovingly endured listening to me analyze every TV show and movie we watched. We fought together in the trenches against the stresses of college and celebrated our undergraduate highs together. It’s these shared experiences that will forever link us together.
Last month, one of my roommates was preparing for a visit from a friend from home when she realized that her old friend didn’t know her as she is now. She had not done a complete 180 from the girl she was in high school, but had modified some of her habits and beliefs. It is human to grow and change—but showing someone a matured version of oneself is different from growing through those changes together. So even though I cannot speak firsthand of lifetime friendships, and am not trying to say that those are eclipsed by college bonds, I do think there is something unique about college friendships that lends them a certain durability, whether in memory or in actual continued contact.
I recently attended Lowell House’s Senior Awards Dinner. Afterward, our House master opened up the floor to toasts. A classmate went to the mike and dedicated his toast to “All roommates,” listing the many generous acts of his own roommates, from lending him neckties to helping him prepare for an interview at the last minute.
It has often been said that one of the best aspects of Harvard is the people. I have been blessed to meet many amazing people here who are kind, funny, smart. I could go on and on about our epic dining-hall conversations, ranging from mental-health issues to the latest sports news. As graduation approaches, I realize I may never again have the opportunity to interact daily with such a group of diverse and truly interesting people in meaningful ways. I have been telling my friends that I wish I could stay just one more year, for the students, the professors, the culture, the resources. For all that I have done during my time here, there is so much more I wish I could do, more people I want to meet, more friends I want to make. But my time draws to a close, so I want to follow in the footsteps of my fellow Lowellian and dedicate my final words to thanking my classmates, my friends, and my roommates.
Berta Greenwald Ledecky Undergraduate Fellow Melanie Long ’10 wishes all the best for the class of 2010 after graduation and can’t wait for her summer trip to Europe with her roommates.