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Hello all!

Signing in after what amounted to a very long sabbatical from writing.  I hope everyone is doing well through these colder months (Boston just got another big snow storm… typical), and that y’all have been finding some really awesome content on the blog!  I do have to say that the opportunity to write for you guys over the course of my now two and a half years at Harvard (OH MY GOSH!!!… time has flown!) has been an extreme honor.  It has helped me reflect on my life here and my development as a person.  And the opportunity to meet people who have read this blog, especially some you who are in the classes below me at Harvard now, is really mind blowing.  So thanks guys!

What has my life been since I last posted?  Well, it has been transformational.

It is interesting to be a college junior because it is perhaps the first time one can look back on their college experience and see growth—personal, academic, experiential, philosophical (and maybe around the middle if you’re not careful).  I look at pictures of myself as a freshman and see a younger version of myself today.  I reconsider my ideas and beliefs about life and see a thoughtfulness and regard for other points of view that I didn’t used to have.  I think back to all of the cool experiences that Harvard has given me and feel thankful for every day.

Me and a few friends back in September

Since last writing, I was elected as President of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), the nation’s largest student-run public service nonprofit, and the bastion of community-based service at Harvard.  As a student-run 501c3, my position is technically President of the Board of Trustees, and from that office, I work with a team of student officers and adult staff to run 1,400 person strong organization.  Being in this position, while crazy and insane (I seriously have a full-time job while trying to be a student), has challenged me in ways I could have never anticipated and set me on a path I never could have predicted I would take.  From learning how to schedule every second of my day, to how to facilitate a good training/meeting, to how to contribute meaningfully to the Harvard campus and to the Greater Boston area, I have taken so much from this experience even as it asks so much of me.

Vice President of PBHA Sam Greenberg ’14 and me doing PBHA work

I love working with people.  I love thinking about team dynamics, appreciating the unique strengths of everyone in the room, and supporting people in a way that makes them feel valued and productive.  And I love especially working with the amazingly gifted students I find in PBHA.  Within our Officer Team this year (as we call ourselves, DreamTeam2013), each person arrives with a different story, and each person has new insights and thoughts to offer that challenge me to question my assumptions and consider sometimes things that are fundamental to our society – IT’S SO COOL!

A team circle-up at the end of our week-long PBHA Officer training — “Nonprofit Management Intensive” — back in January (I’m the one in the gray sweater).

Not a day goes by when I don’t find myself wondering, “Well, why is it that way?” Or “How do I reconcile these two conflicting ideals/experiences/philosophies in my life?”  And the confidence I have developed in understanding myself and my world strengthens daily.

Woah, I just got deep really fast there.  Sorry if that was a lot.

So for the sake of all of our sanities, I’m going to narrow this post down to what I did this past week, rather than try to cover months of lost time.

My schedule for last week

Allow me to refer to my handy-dandy Google Calendar!  Hmmm… let’s see.  Well, I went to a lot of meetings, as per usual.  With over 30 hours of PBHA “on the clock” time (as in, not including checking and sending emails, writing proposals, planning agendas, and all the outside work), it’s easy to see how it is my main thing.

I also went to class and had a paper due on Thursday!  This semester I am taking some really interesting classes – History 1280: History of the Soviet Union, History 1629: China and the Environment, Ethical Reasoning 24: Liberty, and Sociology 95: Research for Nonprofits.  I have found each of these classes to be fascinating and love the range of material I am learning.

Last week I also got to go to the celebration of Teen Empowerment’s 20 year anniversary where they honored Mayor Menino for his commitment and service to Boston’s youth!  It was so amazing to meet and see a lot of Boston’s major public service players, people who have committed their lives to making the world a better place and live passionately.

Finally, this weekend a friend of mine from back home in Pittsburgh came to visit!  It’s always the best to connect with people from home and talk about Pittsburgh-y things.  One thing that I have learned is that people from Pittsburgh will never shut up about how awesome Pittsburgh is (myself included).

This coming week is going to be a scary one!  I have so much to do to get ready for Spring Break and then BAM!— I’m off to Madrid for Harvard Model Congress’ Europe Conference!  I cannot wait to meet and work with all of the high school students I am about to coach through a mock National Security Council session!  And after the conference, some friends, and I are going to the Canary Islands where I intend to tan (let’s be real, I’ll really just burn) and soak in as much relaxation and Vitamin-D as I can before returning to the craziness of life here.

So strap on your seatbelts y’all!  I’m back to posting every week, and this year is going to be a crazy ride.


Kate Meakem

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Sometimes I feel that as Harvard students, we learn to over-plan our lives.  We live by online apps like iCal or Google Calendar, forcing our days into orderly columns filled to the brim with overlapping boxes (color-coded, of course) each standing for classes, extracurriculars, interviews, meetings, deadlines, and of course the eternally vague “others” – those events that annoy our neurotic minds because we cannot fit them neatly into a colored category.  On top of this, we program our calendars to send us reminders on our phones of where we need to be and at what time, ensuring that we stick to schedule and never stray off course.

Schedule of my week… note that I write down EVERYTHING

To see two friends frantically pause on the sidewalk, whip out their phones, check their calendars, and rattle off mutual free time slots in which to schedule “catch-up coffee” or “lunch in the dhall” (lingo for dining hall) before rushing off in different directions because said phones have alerted them of their next commitment is maybe one of the most common sites at Harvard.  I, for one, have become a pro at what I call the “walk-and-shout.”  Here’s how it works: Sally is speed walking in one direction while her friend Joe is speed walking in the opposite direction.  In their hurry they look up and recognize each other, but neither having the time to stop, they strike up their shouted conversation 10 feet away.  As they get closer, neither’s velocity changes.  Instead, once they pass each other, they each turn around and continue their conversation walking backward until neither can hear the other.  Such a conversation is usually ended with a “let’s grab lunch!” followed by one or both parties checking their calendars.

The perk of scheduling – efficiency.  Ever since the doodles of dogs, smilie faces, and hot air balloons in the margins of my notes turned into scrawled hour-by-hour breakdowns of my day, I’ve been able to fit a whole lot more in.  And then as I’m falling asleep at the end of the day, I have fewer of those heart stopping “OMG I forgot to do X, Y, and Z!!!” moments, and therefore I sleep better knowing that I haven’t let the day go to waste.

But is there a moment when scheduled can become over-scheduled?  Have days become 1”x 5” rectangles in our calendars rather than portions of our lives?  By becoming obsessed with not missing a scheduled moment, are we actually missing out on life?

The weekend of the Harvard/ Yale game, I had it all figured out.  I was riding down to New Haven on the Theta bus, getting in touch with my friend from prefrosh weekend Larissa, and following her around for the night.  The next morning, I was going to wake up and hit the game with a bunch of my Theta sisters before returning with them on the bus.  But when a few kinks in the plan emerged (Larissa had an International Relations something-or-other to attend), and I was forced to sort of float… which led me to running into a super old friend and “catching-up”—not in the Harvard, frantic sort of way, but in the real, let’s have a meaningful conversation sort of way.  And when I ended up going into the Game alone the next afternoon because I’d lost my friends in the crowd, I had the opportunity to sit with a friend and her new boyfriend (who it turns out wasn’t new at all… I just hadn’t seen her in a long time), and then later sit with some old friends from Pennypacker (my totally amazing freshman dorm).

It’s interesting how if you were to ask me what I’ve done in the days since Harvard/ Yale, I would have to refer to my calendar from those days to tell you anything except for the one thing that wasn’t on my calendar – the Penguins hockey game I was spontaneously able to go to last night.  There I was, sitting with my two little brothers and little cousin in the best hockey seats I’ve ever had in my life (right behind the goal), NOT writing the history essay I have due tomorrow at 5 pm, NOT writing this blog entry which is horrendously late, NOT calling the friend I was supposed to get in touch with, and having a fantastic time!

It was as the final goal in overtime sounded a Pens’ defeat, as I went home that night and allowed myself to watch a few old episodes of Glee before going to bed, as I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my family this afternoon, that I came to appreciate the ability to slow down and not be over-scheduled.

Breaks are meant to be breaks in our schedules.  And yes, while I may have been scheduled to finish this blog post five minutes ago, and I am going to need to write my history paper before tomorrow morning so I can get up and enjoy all of the early-bird Black Friday specials with my sister before noon, and then I have to meet with some high school friends over dinner and a movie, then meet with another friend for breakfast on Saturday so I can get my haircut Saturday afternoon, before going to dinner with my family and spending time with another friend Saturday night, before returning to Harvard on Sunday and starting up with exams… there is something to be said for taking things as they come.

Maybe this is something that I can be more mindful of in the coming weeks as we close the semester.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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