On May 13th I had the honor of sitting inside Memorial Church. Tucked away in the middle of campus opposite Widener Library and next to red brick Sever Hall, Memorial Church stands resolute and tall. It is something to behold on our campus. Right on its footsteps, sits Memorial Church Café– a new addition to our campus this year– with a sign that reads: “Come for the Caffeine, Stay for the Community.” On those very steps, George Marshall spoke of the need for the Marshall Plan after World War II. Today, weddings happen each and every season there. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see entire bridal parties posing for pictures on those steps. My twin sister lived in Thayer dorm, which is just adjacent to the Church, her freshmen year and would joke “Yeah I’m studying for LS1A and there’s little flower girls running outside my window. Hard to complain.”
But I say ‘tucked away’ when I describe the church because most students never even wander inside until their senior year; indeed the 8:45 am 15-minute services the Church holds each morning before classes are among our campus’ well guarded secrets (well, not so secret anymore 🙂
I mention the church because on May 13th one of my friends and an almost-graduate (just a few more days to go!) from the college gave her senior talk there. During the last few weeks of school, seniors from each residential house give a short “senior speech” on behalf of their own house community. My friend Julia gave the speech for Mather. And while it was a tad early in the morning to stumble out to the yard, I am so grateful I did. It was honestly the highlight of my sophomore year.
Julia talked about the community we had in Mather, how it had made her think about a quote inscribed on Wigglesworth gate: “Enter to Grow in Wisdom — Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind.” She talked about what Harvard had taught her about what serving “thy kind” really means– how it’s not about encircling our world, our friends, our family and choosing to serve them only, but rather choosing to give to those too who we have never even met. Humanity, she told us, “is enough– more than enough– to warrant love.”
Julia’s message that morning in Memorial Church was simple. But it struck me still. It is not easy after all to serve all of humanity– it is much easier to serve thy kind. Her thoughts, so eloquently spoken, wrestled in me something I’ve been thinking about a lot this year.
Harvard you see is a lot of things. But one thing people don’t often tell you is that in some ways, getting here… it makes you feel like you could do anything. Watching the winners of the President’s Challenge and hearing some of our speakers– Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Salman Khan, Jim Yong-kim— you feel in some crazy way that you too can do something, make something, be something.
But then when you leave Harvard and when you enter the “real world” you don’t always feel the same. I felt that transition in the fall when I took the semester off to intern in DC. I remember how struck I was by how settled into their real adult lives everyone around me seemed. And how scary that was to me. As much as I sometimes complain about the whirlwind that is college– how quickly it ends, how fast we move, how every May I find myself yet again lugging more boxes and throwing them into storage– I know that I will miss it. College really isn’t for the settled.
But, for some reason, until Julia’s speech that day it hadn’t really occurred to me how easy it would be to settle– or in her example, to leave Harvard and just draw a circle around your friends and family, call them out as “thy kind,” and serve them and serve them only. In that light settling would not just be easy, it would be convenient– and it wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.
But it wouldn’t be enough.
In leaving us so very unsettled, in pushing us in ways we didn’t otherwise expect, Harvard teaches us that each and every day. Thank you, Julia, for reminding me– and good luck, graduate!!