Thursday, May 29, 2008

This is IT: A tribute to the Class of 2008 at Harvard University

I just wanted to share a speech I entered for Class Day at Harvard that unfortunately did not get selected. Regardless, I think it expresses something we've all felt throughout our experience here and in this last week of insanity. I tried on my cap and gown tonight and I definitely had that shiver of recognition of the end/beginning of things. Enjoy.

Congratulations. You made it. And what a glorious moment it is. But I can guarantee that you, the Class of 2008, have all been here, in this moment, before. And I quote:
“Dear Mr. Zebrowski-Rubin
I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid has voted to offer you a place in the Harvard Class of 2008.”

And you probably thought, at that moment: this is it. You, the number one student of whatever high school you attended, got into the world-famous, top-notch, ticket-to-success Harvard University. You made it through the SATs, the APs, the IBs, the extracurriculars and the sports. Now, you would find yourself among a sea of 1700 number-one students from across the country and the world. And thus began the journey through Harvard.

After a year of owning up to the fact you were a tourist attraction, adjusting your eyes to the flash of photos and telling yourself, “I really am at Harvard” you had to pick a concentration (or major for the outside world). At the end of Freshman year, I panicked, I really had to decide what to study. Initially thinking I would study Engineering, Psychology or Philosophy, after two semesters at Harvard, I had discovered that the math was far beyond highschool level and had words in it, psychology was an actual science not some dream of leather chair counseling, and philosophy involved overturning large abstract concepts using logic. I decided to meet with my Freshman Dean, Dean Mancall. I met with Dean Mancall 4 or 5 times.

In and out of these meetings, I wandered the concentrations, looking for the right fit: English? History? Literature? What about History AND Literature? But I soon realized that I learned best with pictures and settled on Art History joined with Italian Studies just for kicks. And at that moment, with concentration decided, I thought: this is it.

But at each new turn, came new challenges. Papers, problem sets, core classes, section, blocking groups, changing concentrations, changing concentrations again… and just when you thought you could relax, watch another YouTube video, Facebook stalk that special someone, or chat up an acquaintance at the Lamont CafĂ©, there was more work, longer papers, more problem sets, more classes, tutorials, and finally, what you thought would be the pinnacle of your Harvard career, a thesis. And if you wrote a thesis, after you handed in that 50- to 120-page sucker, you also thought: this is it. But it, as you can probably tell by now, really isn’t it at all.

And so, today, we hit that nondescript two-letter word again, and we label this moment: it. What is it this time? The end of a very expensive education? The end of a four-year paper-writing friend-making party? Or is it something else? Is this, indeed, the start of the rest of our lives? Is this the part of the story where we, the Class of 2008, grow up? In this it moment are all those moments of triumph from the past four years where we thought this is it: from our first wide-eyed glance up the stately columns of Widener library to that moment we put down the pen in our last exam. As we move on towards our next it moment in our lives, let us take the time to remember all those that came before.

Sure, that 20-page paper wasn’t always an easy late-night, day-before creation, and we haven’t always been frolicking joyously through the tasks and requirements Harvard set for us, but the substance of this place: where no question is too big to be asked or tackled and where students arrive with sharp minds for learning have made it a worthwhile journey.

Just think of how lost you were when you first wandered into Widener stacks looking for Pusey… or remember how awed you were hearing the names of the professors who taught here, no remember instead how awed you were speaking to those professors that teach here, or recall again how talented/intelligent/artistic or take your choice of praise-slathering adjective your classmates are… or bring to mind the gratification you felt joining the Boston community the year the Red Sox broke their 86-year losing streak and went all the way, and don’t forget the gratification you felt three years later when they did it again.

Most of all, however, wrapped up in all the it moments of Harvard are the classmates and friends who sat next to us in core classes or stretched meal times out to an hour or two. Sure, Harvard has the largest undergraduate library in the country, and a jaw-droppingly impressive roster of professors, but the students, your classmates, these kids sitting next to you, these are the people who populated and created the Harvard experience. I think it safe to say that you will be hard-pressed to find an environment filled with such intelligent, driven, multi-tasking, multi-talented colleagues. This may be it, but look around you… we are it, a crowd of students, teeming with talent and popping with potential, both past, present and future.

Freshman year, you might have thought that you were a whole other brand of it, that you were the mistake, the kid who shouldn’t have gotten in. But here we are, all graduating tomorrow. Secretly, those kids that thought they were the mistake are now thinking Haha, suckers, I got through… Truth is, each and every one of the members of the Class of 2008 here assembled has made it, we all graduate, cap-and-gowned, tomorrow. We all know how capable we are: all of us have an incredible drive, commitment to hard work and some carefully honed talent that we will continue to bring with us.

Whether you’re headed to Wall Street to take on the Dow Jones, back home to reconnect with family, around the world to travel, to pursue an introductory foray in unemployment, or chase after a dream that can’t be recruited, each and every one of us has a four year Harvard experience, full of it moments. Besides the HBomb we now have as ammunition, Harvard has given each of us a valuable and formative education. Regardless of what classes we took, if you wanted to Count People or just engage in some Loitering, if you wanted to make your Psychology, Positive or become a Medical Detective, we have, with Harvard’s help, continued to nurture that thirst for questions that doubtless got us here in the first place.

I remember in my meeting with Dean Mancall, I kept saying that at the end of 4 years I wanted to have read the classics, done multivariable calculus, been exposed to world religions, etc. etc. My refrain was: after 4 years, after 4 years, after 4 years. And here I am, after 4 years, and only now do I remember what Dean Mancall told me: “Your undergraduate education will, hopefully, only be the beginning. You may not satisfy the academic checklist you set out for your education. It is only the first 4 years.” And he was right. I will leave Harvard tomorrow perhaps a little wiser, maybe a little more popular, and a lot more qualified. But I will also leave with that constant questioning, drive, and love of books that I and we have had all our lives. These instincts, which make us all the intelligent and on-point capable people we are, have, with the help of inquisitive classmates and encouraging professors, come to a nurtured fruition here at Harvard and, as a consequent, can only continue.

So, Class of 2008, this is, indeed, it. But sit tight, because this IT is only the beginning.

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