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What Have I Learned From Harvard?

By Robert Miranda
Robert Miranda ’20, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is an English concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

I have always had a very romanticized, and therefore unreasonable, view of college. I came to Cambridge nearly four years ago hoping to become a better person. I thought I would join a theatre group, learn photography, further my creative writing interests, study abroad, and write a thesis to cap it all off. And yet I have not.

It’s an understatement to say my reality today is very different from many of these dreams. Throughout this semester, I’ve wondered whether I’ve properly used my time on this campus. In many ways college has been a repeat of high school for me, as the most significant activity I joined was the newspaper. I’ve been involved in student journalism for over seven years now — a third of my life.

My greatest fear in life is wasting it. In many ways I am still the scared freshman who asked how I could use my time at Harvard to learn about myself. Recently I questioned the decisions I made and the organizations I joined, wondering whether any of it was meaningful or fulfilling, unable to decide. Once in a fit of anger I called it all “wasted effort.” Were my college years all for nothing?

But slowly I have begun to realize that all of it has meant something. Through every activity I’ve participated in, every acceptance and every failure, Harvard taught me how to slow down and think about how I really want to use my time. By thinking about the things I did and didn’t enjoy doing, or didn’t derive fulfillment from, I realized how I truly want to use my time.

Something else I’ve thought about is how difficult it is to go through Harvard while staying true to myself and humble. Our campus loves to brag. We love to outshine each other on our resumes to get to the next stage, the next “Harvard”: the prestigious consulting job, top-tier graduate program, trendy tech firm.

I don’t mean that everyone who pursues these goals isn’t humble, or that they lie to themselves, or that those things aren’t worth pursuing. There are many people I deeply admire who will work at Bank of America or study at Yale Law School next year. I only know myself, and I know that if I pursued many of the prestigious things my peers did, I would not have been as true to myself, or as fulfilled, as I wanted.

Yet, not knowing what I really wanted, I moved aimlessly from club to club, class to class, leadership position to leadership position, interview to interview, searching for fulfillment. As I became busier and busier, I discovered I enjoyed my time less and less. Work is a never-ending cycle; there is always something higher to achieve, something more to do, something greater to strive toward. This isn’t unique to Harvard; it plays out in every aspect of life, especially if one chases prestige.

It would be wrong to assume that I hate Harvard or that I think about my time here negatively. I have made the greatest friends I’ve ever had in my life here. I discovered a value and depth in friendship I never knew before. My friends — especially my roommates — have always been there for me in my highs and lows, and my Harvard experience would not exist without them.

There is one decision I made in college that has brought me deep joy — when I gave in to my heart’s desires and concentrated in English. Every poem, every book, and every essay I have read remains with me; every course has taught me something. I read literature because it gives me an understanding of how to live my life, and what humanity has in common, all through the forgiving lens of fiction. It has taught me that no matter how different we all are, and however little we may have in common with each other, we are all more or less the same. (And not everyone is as smart as they appear.) This isn’t limited to fiction — I see this at Harvard all the time.

This semester I made two life changes which have also brought me incredible happiness — embracing the Catholic faith I was raised in, and running most mornings (though the snow has recently made this more challenging). Yet if you asked me to give the most meaningful act I discovered in college it would be this, best encapsulated by the writer Norman Maclean: “Usually, I get up early to observe the commandment observed by only some of us — to arise early to see as much of the Lord’s daylight as is given to us.”

Maclean wrote this in the greatest piece of writing I’ve found in college, his novella “A River Runs Through It.” There is both grandeur and a beautiful, subtle power in seeing a day run its course. On a campus where we are often self-absorbed, busy, thinking about what’s next, we need only to observe a sunrise to be humbled and reminded of what is beyond us, to place everything into perspective, whether we are religious or not. Each morning I gaze out from my bedroom window and silently give thanks for being alive to see another day begin. It brings me a feeling I can only inadequately describe as serenity.

Can I truly and honestly say that Harvard has made me the better person I wanted to be? I don’t know. What I can say is Harvard has shown me my limitations and strengths, and given me a realistic sense of who I really am.

No, I am not as humble, or as kind, or as understanding, or as patient, as I would like to be — yet. But there is hope. Maclean’s commandment reminds me how to slow down and set myself on the right track. As long as I’m there to witness every sunrise and every sunset, to remember who I am and what brings me meaning, I’ll be okay.

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

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