Thrive Global on Campus//

Truths I’ve Learned as a Freshman at Harvard

A bumbling frosh's thoughts on the triumphs and tribulations of fall semester.

Olena Kurashova/Getty Images
Olena Kurashova/Getty Images
Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here. If you’ve taken a tour around the Harvard campus, you’ll likely have heard a fast-talking, backwards-walking tour guide spout a spiel about the iconic John Harvard statue. If you are not yet privy, the eponymous myths of the “Statue of Three Lies” are as follows:
  1. The statue is not the likeness of John Harvard; it is in fact an ideal representation of the “Harvard Man.”
  2. The Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded Harvard University, not John Harvard.
  3. Harvard was founded in 1636, not 1638 as suggested by the statue’s inscription.
Inevitably, a few chuckles or emphatic “hmmms” will emanate from the tour group. This morsel of calculated information does its job: deliver palatable pieces of Harvard’s history in a way that makes a university that has reached mythic proportions of prestige appear just a little less intimidating. As a freshman at Harvard, I now live in the very Yard I had toured just a year before. Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize that this period of transition has been both incredible and difficult. In the process of reconciling the expectation and realities of college life, I’ve learned three important truths. What nobody tells you about Harvard is this:
  1. The John Harvard statue toe that is so hopefully and expectantly rubbed by tourists every day? Don’t touch it.
  2. Harvard is special.
  3. Truth #2 is false.
Truth #1 is simply a caution to future visitors. But Truths #2 and #3? Let’s break them down. The allure of Harvard is inexplicable. The question “Why Harvard?” almost seems derivative because, well… it’s Harvard. The name itself is imbued with inherent, and somewhat mystical, value. And in many ways, Harvard is remarkable. My peers have engineered biotech solutions to global health problems, starred in award-winning short films, and effected change in all sorts of meaningful ways. Conversely, my professors, preceptors, and TFs are all incredibly accomplished individuals (some with a Wikipedia biography to boot!). But as imposter syndrome and rat race fatigue chip away the initial wonder of the College Experience™, even the best of us grow weary. A prestigious college is not a paradise, nor a panacea. It’s intimidating in a way no whimsical factoid from a tour guide can quite address. Because of this, perhaps, there seems to be an unmentioned but universal need to earn the mantle of a Harvard student. When you’re in the library at 3 a.m. desperately cramming for your third midterm in as many days, it’s hard to remember to be grateful.

As kitschy as the tours appear to be, they serve as a personal reminder to stay grounded, to tear away from the tunnel vision. There’s nothing quite as strange and oddly humbling as trudging to your dorm after a dishearteningly difficult midterm while flocks of tourists ogle at the place you call home. It’s a reminder that Harvard’s tradition-steeped history is impressive. Becoming a part of this institution is at once a privilege and marvelous burden. And with that, a final list of advice to complete the trifecta:

  1. Mental health matters.
  2. Mental health matters.
  3. Mental health matters.
On a campus chock full of people who expect to achieve perfection, remember that it’s okay to fail. There’s no shame in reaching out for help, or simply for a friend’s company. Practice self-care: Felipe’s quesadillas, a little retail therapy, and face masks do wonders for the soul. Take a break. Leave the Cambridge bubble and explore — Boston is but a couple T stops away. Or perhaps, take the campus tour. Look at Harvard once more with fresh, star-struck eyes. This is home.   Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving. More on Mental Health on Campus: What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis
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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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