What does it mean to be a people person? You would be wise to turn to Michael A. Grant, a Harvard Leverett House guard, for guidance. Mike, who has held his post since 2015, has watched legions of sophomores enter Leverett House still trying to find their footing at the College, and come out on the other side three years later as newly minted Harvard graduates. He has also bonded with the tutors and their families, describing Leverett as a very “family-oriented” place. “I’ve watched a lot of kids from belly to five years old,” he says.
His guard office, where he works from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, overlooks Leverett’s grassy courtyard. It’s a perfect spot for catching the evening traffic of students as they come in and out of the house. Over the course of the interview, more than a dozen students stop by to greet Mike. Their conversations are familiar and easy as they update each other on their days and riff on inside jokes.
Beyond these daily encounters, he’s formed a slew of close connections with Leverett students and has heard many of their stories. “They would cry in here,” he says. “It made me feel special that some people trusted me to come and share these types of stories.”
Indeed, Leverett residents attest to the compassion he brings to his role in the community. “Mike stands out. And he stands out because he’s a great guy,” says Jack R. Walker ’24, who has spent time talking with Mike about ROTC and Mike’s car detailing business, among other topics. “I have met few people at Harvard as willing to be vulnerable, as insistent on nurturing genuine relationships as Mike,” Malachi S. Robinson ’23 says. “My conversations with him have stretched my heart, and made me more human.”
Mike is aware of his special position as a figure in an undergrad residential house, a place where many students are “away from home, away from their comfort zone.” In this role, he is frequently a listener. “Sometimes people just need an ear. People don’t always want your advice,” he explains. “They’ve got people telling them stuff. I’m not their parent or anything like that… But some people just want to express themselves and not feel like they’re being judged.”
Mike’s kindness towards students has extended beyond just conversation. Mike remembers one winter when he noticed that two Leverett students never seemed to be wearing jackets. Only “sweaters,” sometimes “a little hat,” Mike says. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he purchased one student a jacket.
“She was a sophomore at the time, so I wanted her to have a jacket that I knew would last,” he explains. “A North Face jacket with inserts.” The student cried upon receiving it, he says. “She couldn’t even talk.”
As for the other student, Mike recalls: “One day, I was sitting there talking to him, and I was like ‘Bro, you need to get a coat.’ He was like, ‘I’m working on it, I’m working on it. I just don’t have the money right now.’ So I went and got him a coat.”
But Mike’s relationship with students hasn’t been one-sided. Robinson says his friendship with Mike began with assisting him after learning of an unexpected loss at the end of one of their conversations. “Right when I planned to leave, Mike chose to make a tearful confession to me: His brother had just been killed by a stray bullet in Atlanta while riding into a gas station with his girlfriend and their child,” Robinson says. “This was not a revelation I was expecting at the time, and, I believe, not one which Mike had planned to make.”
Mike says he had received the news shortly before his interaction with Robinson. “Malachi went and walked out, came back and said, ‘You know, what? Can I take your hand in prayer? Can we pray together?’” he recalls. “That meant a lot. I was trying so hard not to cry. Because I was like, damn, for somebody to care that much, to come back and pray with me — I was just like, wow, this dude right here. And since then, it’s nothing but love.”
“I don’t remember what I said, but I know that it was a profound moment for the two of us,” Robinson says.
Mike used to spend hours talking to his brother on the phone every day. “There were times students would even come by and say, ‘Oh, Mike, I haven’t seen you in a while. Every time I was going to stop in I’d see you on the phone.’ I was on the phone with my brother,” Mike says. “Now I’m never on the phone.”
The brevity of life comes up repeatedly in our conversation. “I never like to refer to life as a game,” Mike tells me. “But, you know, somebody told me, ‘Life is a game man, and you gotta learn how to play the game.’ It was right at a time when my brother passed. So I said, ‘Well, you know, in this game of life, there’s no scoreboard that tells you how much time you got left on your clock. You don’t know when the whistle blows. There is no scoreboard to tell you that it’s the fourth quarter, that there are two minutes left. So you’ve just got to live your life how you want to live it.”
Mike currently owns and operates an auto detailing business, which “blew up a lot bigger than expected” in recent years. He mentions that he might not be able to keep up with the demand if he keeps working for the business part-time. Mike often thinks about leaving the guard position to work full-time, which he had planned on doing with his brother.
Still, he remains at Leverett. His days often begin at 5:30 a.m.; sometimes, he works a double shift, working 16 hours straight, and does detailing work after he gets off. “Sometimes I’m like, okay, you know what? I’m gonna quit, but then I’m like, ‘I’ll wait until this one graduates.’” And for all the challenges this decision entails, he remains “grateful for everything I get, good and bad,” he says.
A group of incoming Leverett students (he calls them “rising rabbits”) shows up outside Mike’s office at one point in our conversation, all donning LED green rabbit ears from Housing Day. “Are you Mike?” one asks. “We’ve heard so much about you,” says another. He learns all of their names immediately and is soon bantering with them.
Mike admits that his younger self couldn’t have anticipated his role today. “I always said I wanted a job in the back of the warehouse where I didn’t have to talk to no one,” he says, but “my happiness comes from helping other people.”
— Magazine writer Allison K. Moon can be reached at email@example.com.