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Sound and Fury

Does it all ultimately signify nothing?

This was not the column I planned to write this week. (Planned might be a strong word, though. I nearly forgot I had one more piece to close out the semester and barely got this in before the deadline.) In keeping with the more forceful challenges I wanted to pose to the societal status quo and the Harvard community in this semester’s columns, I had planned to proffer as powerful and profound a commentary as I could muster on some prevailing current issue.

From the perplexing alteration of school anthem “Fair Harvard” to The Crimson Editorial Board’s latest HCFA hysteria to whatever is happening on the Korean peninsula, there’s no shortage of small and large controversies that I could have waded into, to leave a lingering last word. As many of my peers and friends would unfortunately be able to tell you (bless their hearts for putting up with all of it), I have no shortage of opinions on these controversies either.

But as I sat down this week at my computer to wax poetic, my usual diatribe energy was severely depleted, motivation and morale was waning quickly, and my copious exams and papers loudly demanded my attention. Apathy reigned supreme, and I just didn’t care. Was it the stress of finals? The burnout from a hellish junior year finally catching up with me?

Perhaps more of a pessimistic nihilism had something to do with it. Over the course of completing all my classes this semester, I will have written so many words and sentences and pages and run hundreds of lines of Stata code and stared at my computer for so long and I cannot help but wallow in the drudgery of the fact that it all means nothing. It means nothing. Most of my work is going to be cursorily evaluated and then forgotten forever.

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Don’t get me wrong: I believe very strongly in the worth of my education here, and I know that these last few challenging weeks play a critical role in knowledge formation and character-building. I will cheat myself out of the fullness of a Harvard education if I am not willing to bear down and get through it. But as the sound and fury silently rage on in my Google Docs and PowerPoints and my refuge in the Classics library, it seems to ultimately signify nothing to me.

Sound and fury continue to rage on around me in the titles on display in our dining halls, at the Harvard Book Store, on Facebook, in the news (or whatever passes for news these days). It seems everyone has something to say about everything, whether by demand on an exam or by choice in the public sphere. Usually I find the chaos an appealing challenge, but now the volume is deafening, and the noise is exhausting.

As the long-awaited allure of spring finally beckons outside my bleak Mather House window, hunkering down in the library and writing a column and another paper to add to the sound and fury is the last thing I want to do. I don’t really want to respond to race-to-the-bottom arguments on the latest campus controversy, I’d rather race kayaks on the Charles with my friends and roommates. I am quite tired of regurgitating the omitted variable bias equation on practice econometrics exams, and would far rather attend to the actual people I’ve been omitting from my life for so many weeks.

I’ve long respected (and argued many a time with) the author of the Crimson column, The Village Idiot, and was particularly struck by his thought that Harvard students buy the “perverse lie” that “your grades will somehow reimburse you for your lost time, time that you should’ve spent developing the relationships that matter most.” I can’t help but wonder about how much time I’ve lost here, and also can’t help but mildly regret all the time I spend arguing and ranting with people.

What is the value of another hour studying compared to an hour spent with a friend? Would I genuinely rather win an argument with them or just be together with them? There are correct answers to these questions, and I’m not always sure I answer properly.

As I confront the reality of The Village Idiot (who is far from an idiot) and so many of my other senior friends leaving, I’m closing my computer and leaving the Classics library. I’ve got to go catch one last meal with a friend.

Grace M. Chao ’19 is an Economics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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