Homing In on Harvard
While roaming Harvard Square on a bright early-June afternoon, I walked past a street musician playing The Beatles’ hit “Here Comes the Sun.” I remember reckoning that the song was quite suited to the time. A bitter winter had dragged on until not too long before, and a short brisk spring was just about to turn into summer. I knew I would be spending the next two months on campus, and I was excited to see Harvard in—quite literally—a new light. “Cambridge is so beautiful in the summer,” many told me cheerfully upon hearing my summer plans. They were right, in more than one way. The city, like most places, is undoubtedly more eye-pleasing during the warm season than in other times of the year. But being on campus this summer has been unexpectedly beautiful in a different sense. I rediscovered the place I had been living in for two years, took it in, and made it mine.
As I sprinted from one end of campus to the other day in and day out for four semesters, I never took the time to become genuinely familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. On exceptionally rare occasions I would allow myself to take a detour from the shortest way to class to get a glimpse of the snowy or blossoming Yard. On even rarer occasions I would be on the lookout for uncharted corners or take notice of the little details around me. Most days I would stride across campus as fast as I could, carefully dodging tourists, mentally rehearsing my to-do list, and constantly checking the time only to find out that yes, I was late. As physical sites, Harvard and the Square were mostly just infrastructures that allowed me to achieve. As much as I was enjoying my undergraduate experience, I never thought of them as home.
Contributing to this feeling was the fact that, wherever I went, there were hundreds of other people—whether students, staff, faculty, or locals—who seemed to know the place better than I did. As an underclassman, I reasonably felt somewhat new and unacquainted with the campus and neighborhood. Packed classrooms, libraries, dining halls, streets, and stores often prevented me from actually exploring and appreciating what was around me. To be sure, this is not something I minded or was even conscious of over the past two years. In fact, I realized how different a relationship I could have with my own campus only as I got to experience it under new circumstances this summer.
Despite the more than a thousand summer-school kids who seized the Yard in mid June and the uptick in the number of visitors, Harvard is significantly emptier during summertime. As most undergraduates leave to pursue short-term projects elsewhere and many professors travel to conduct their own research, campus facilities are often deserted. The first floor of Lamont Library, where there is hardly a free seat during term-time, suddenly becomes the perfect spot to do work. The whole building, like several others throughout the Yard, has been so empty since the end of the academic year that I have felt almost as if I owned it. Because I have had so much campus space to myself, Harvard has begun to feel much more familiar than it has ever been.
Just like Harvard itself, the pages of my day planner are also emptier in the summer. For the first time in two years I have had the time to observe Tercentenary Theatre from the top of the Widener steps, to get lost in the library’s stacks, to enjoy burning sunsets on the Charles River, to wander across the Square with friends, and to relax in the Yard. All this has given me the chance to focus on and enjoy the details that make this place what it is, and to actually feel a part of the campus that has hosted me since freshman year. By homing in on Harvard over the past two months, I was able to finally make it my home.