2014 Settles In
Freshmen are advised, “Embrace the awkward!"
The advance guard—FAPpers, FIPpers, FOPpers, and FUPpies headed for the arts, international, outdoor, and urban pre-orientation programs, and their Fall Clean-Up peers—began appearing on August 19 and 20, in warm, mostly bright weather that morphed into leaden skies, downpours, and temperatures in the low 60s. The rest of the first years arrived on August 26 to find sunny summer weather that segued into sweltering days in the 90s and sticky nights in the 70s. But the class of 2014—numbering 1,671 women and men from 79 countries, selected from a record applicant pool that topped 30,000—took their introduction to New England weather in stride. With their placement tests largely behind them (the math, writing, science, and language exams are now taken online, in June) and a five-and-a-half-day, 24-hour-a-day, electronic registration window available for their convenience, most freshmen could focus on exploration: learning their way around and getting to know their classmates.
Scores of upperclass peer advising fellows (PAFs), graduate-student proctors, volunteer faculty and staff nonresident advisers, and other members of the Harvard community, not to mention the detailed 52-page Calendar of Opening Days booklet prepared by the Freshman Dean’s Office, were available to help them out. Tours of Harvard came with green, historical, or practical itineraries, while “Through the Gates” trips offered service and leisure expeditions beyond the Square. Mandatory meetings addressing academic and community standards and expectations were surrounded by speeches (“Twilight of the Anthropocene?” “Outbreak: Evolution, Genomics, and Infectious Disease”), a “First Chance Dance” and a talent show, informational sessions introducing 50 different departments and concentrations, an 8 a.m. “Pilates Mat” session one day and a 5 p.m. fitness run another. The 138 extracurricular groups whose listings filled 12 Calendar pages had their own events to offer.
And on Tuesday, August 31, the members of 2014 became only the second class to participate in the College’s refashioned Convocation. The once-optional ritual—held the day before classes begin, to focus the academic community at the start of a new term—now celebrates the newest members of that community. The freshmen don’t gather again as a class until Baccalaureate services, two days before they graduate, so the new-model event, evoking Commencement with a procession, music, University insignia, and capped and gowned professors seated on the dais in front of Memorial Church, offers a vivid beginning to parallel the close of their College careers.
Most first-years honored the suggestion for “dressy attire” despite 96-degree heat; at 4 p.m. they stood ready, as required, to process into Tercentenary Theatre behind their dorm banners, serenaded by the Harvard University Band and cheered on by proctors, PAFs, and the upperclassmen and -women, alumni marshals, faculty, and staff members gathered to greet them with speeches and song.
In welcoming Harvard’s “fourth class of ’14,” dean of freshmen Thomas Dingman acknowledged the University’s past but encouraged the newcomers to take advantage of the opportunities it offers for reinvention. “Bless this old College, and keep it ever young and vital,” echoed the Reverend Peter Gomes in his invocation.
In fact, “The Yard comes to life again” with your arrival, dean of Harvard College Evelynn Hammonds told the first-years. She urged them not to be intimidated by their peers but to engage with classmates and with the rest of the University—the only way to benefit from “this diversity of talent.” Or as senior Amelia Muller put it, “Embrace the awkward!” Try a new activity, stretch academically, “Take a course that is not in your parents’ four-year plan!”
The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences followed their lead. Tackling an inevitable reality of orientation week, Michael Smith noted that comparing oneself with others is part of human nature. “Comparison can be a stimulus, but can also lead to self-doubt,” he said, so try instead to learn something new every day, especially from those around you. “Don’t compare, connect”—and some of those connections may last a lifetime.
President Drew Faust handled another traditional first-year concern: “You’re all experts at succeeding,” she told the newest class. And so she encouraged them not to think of Harvard as “a personal success insurance policy,” but as a safe place where they can learn “a whole new meaning of success” that comes from going outside their comfort zones and being willing to fail. “Initial ignorance can be an enormous asset,” she asserted, and told them about A.K. Barnett-Hart ’09. The Juilliard-trained violinist who decided it would be useful to take Ec 10 went on to graduate summa cum laude in economics; her senior thesis on collateralized debt obligations, which she pursued despite faculty doubts, is now on the reading list of a departmental course on the current financial crisis. “Remember to not always listen to us,” Faust added.
Know, though, that the alumni believe in you, said Robert Bowie Jr. ’73, president of the Harvard Alumni Association. His greeting, and the presentation of the official class of 2014 banner, followed Faust’s address. The audience sang “Fair Harvard,” and Dean Dingman recognized each of the 17 freshman dorms as their residents cheered loudly and then filed out behind their class banner to the strains of “Onward Crimson,” by Joshua Rissmuller ’06.
The first-years were onward bound to the steps of Widener, for a class photo, a convocation dinner and reception, the talent show, and perhaps even some sleep before their first Harvard classes next morning. On September 9, they will climb the stairs to the Faculty Room in University Hall and—surrounded by portraits of famous Harvard professors and administrators past—file study cards recording their course choices, and return to their explorations as full members of their new community.