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The Connection Challenge

Students take advantage of the warm weather to socialize in the Yard.

We all love the first few days of the semester, right when school begins and no one’s terribly busy. (“Busy”: The greatest excuse we have at Harvard, but also the saddest word I’ve heard here.) You run into friends, blockmates, linkmates, and House acquaintances you haven’t seen since the spring in the dining hall. It’s curious how it seems as if you’ve been gone for much longer than a few months, especially as you both begin to recount the experiences you had interning at Google, studying abroad in Japan, or backpacking through Italy.

As much as I love the summer, and the respite and insight it affords me, there really is nothing like returning back to Harvard in the fall. Sure, the weather has been abysmal in the way only New England can make it (seriously, Cambridge: rain?), but the idea of Harvard life starting all over again as it gets crisp in the fall, to misquote F. Scott Fitzgerald, fills me with hope.

I spent the summer interning at a company where my team and professional network was comprised of individuals much older than me. And as much as I appreciated the chance to do so — I’ve always felt that I bond with older people much more easily than with my peers — I missed the connections with my peers that only college can provide. After all, isn’t that part of the transformative college experience that Harvard College (or at least its dean) always tries to promote? 

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Upon returning to school and reconnecting with my best friends, though, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating Harvard life, especially its social aspects. I’ve been struck by a few conversations I’ve had with friends about the social life here — particularly its tendency to be disingenuous.

One of my friends, who spent a few weeks this summer in Asia, told me how the bonds he established with the people he met there were much more genuine than many of the ones he’s formed here. In response to this, another of my friends cynically remarked that no one at Harvard truly cares about each other. This view, repeated by one of my fellow Crimson editors, isn’t a new one, nor is it completely inaccurate. But for me? I can’t say that’s entirely true given my experience. Yes, there are many disingenuous people on campus — the archetype of the inveterate social networker comes to mind, searching for connections everywhere he can find. 

But I’ve been incredibly lucky — my blockmates and friends form some of the most solid, genuine relationships I’ve had in my life. But not everyone is as fortunate as me — we all know that loneliness remains one of this campus’s greatest issues. And even personally, I know there are many budding friendships I could build upon if I weren’t so centered upon my work. We all suffer a challenge of connection — unsure of what, if anything, to do with each other.  

Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I firmly believe we could form closer relationships, if we just tried, with the right people. We’re a campus that often describes itself as awkward and antisocial, but I feel we’re secretly much more social than we let on. For me, as curmudgeonly as I can be at times, I love talking to people, and genuinely learning from them: It was something I loved doing at my work this summer, and something I love doing here. 

So, here’s my connection challenge to you, Harvard. (Don’t worry, I’m planning to do this too. I won’t hang you out to dry.) Pick up your phone right now, get on Messenger or GroupMe, and send a message to someone you’d love to talk to more. I mean genuinely talk to, someone that you wouldn’t mind spending two hours with chatting about life, the universe, and everything. After all, “let’s grab a meal sometime” is the largest missed opportunity in a campus full of students who love nothing more than opportunity. Instead, let’s build and strengthen the bonds of friendship we need, on a campus that often has greater potential to isolate than connect us. 

Robert Miranda ’20, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is an English concentrator living in Pforzheimer House.

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