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I don’t usually wake up at 7 am on a Sunday with a huge smile on my face, heart pounding and adrenaline rushing through my veins. But then again, it’s not every day that your dreams come true.
Here at the Admissions Blog, we like to put a positive spin on life at Harvard, but it’s not always filled with shiny happy people and golden opportunities. Exactly one year ago, I was at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life. Tears were running down my face as I sobbed in my common-room bedroom, trying to tuck myself away from the concerned eyes of my roommates, three girls whom I hadn’t known for more than two weeks. When I got around to calling my mom in the afternoon, she was more than surprised with my reasoning for being so sad; try as she might, I don’t think she nor anyone else could understand why I was so crushed by my rejection from three a cappella groups. I couldn’t even comprehend until later, when I realized it was a mix of personal issues I’d been struggling through since the year before combined with this blow. I’d fallen asleep the night before with hopes higher than the top floor of Mather, excitement making me toss and turn for a few hours before a pounding noise and chanting woke me up: the sign that the groups had arrived to scoop up their new inductees for celebration, enveloping them into their musical families. Up on the third floor of Canaday, I could hear my favorite a cappella group screaming out my entryway-mate’s name, cheering for him before there was a slight lull. I waited in bed, a small smile playing upon my lips, my throat sore from the exhausting week of auditioning.
I thought back to the prior evening: Final night, where each auditionee sings a full-length solo, the climax of a challenging series of callbacks where block parts, pitch matching, and blend figured in heavily to whether or not you’d make it to the next round. I was called back for Final Night by three of the four groups for which I’d auditioned and had killed it, ripping my way through Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” after successfully completing the back-up parts to various songs. I never felt more alive, more passionate with each cell of my being, than when I sang my solo in the Lowell Bell Tower, eyes shut to the candles and draped string lights that cast flickering shadows on the audience and the Opportunes members. Something shifted within me when I was up there. I’d never been considered a great singer, never considered myself one, until that moment. Walking back to the Yard, I remember consoling my friend by assuring him we’d make it into a group if we were picked for Final Night. The next morning, I wanted to bite off my tongue for saying that.
The ensuing weeks didn’t get any easier. I tried to fill them with as many distractions as possible, comping The Crimson photography board, joining The Nostalgics by the urging of Leah, a member of both the Opps and The Nostalgics, taking difficult classes, and working various jobs. I ended up falling in love with photography and my band, and they were there for me when things got out of hand midway through October; all of my distractions had become too much, and instead of keeping my fragile emotions at bay, they overwhelmed me to the point that I didn’t think I wanted to come back to school. I almost wasn’t able to, and fell back down into the depression I’d experienced in early September. My band picked me up off the ground, I held myself together enough to pass my almost-failing classes, and was invited back to campus after a much-needed winter break. I’d stopped thinking so much about a cappella by that time, had a leadership position at The Crimson, and was taking classes that I loved, rather than classes I was ‘supposed’ to take. Things were better. I went from saying that Harvard was ‘really hard’ to saying that it was the best decision I could have made, and I was in a stable, good place most of the time. Summer rolled around, and by the time it was August I had told my parents that I wanted to be on Harvard’s polo team. “The one with horses?” my mom asked. “Yes. That one.” Unfortunately, it’s a club sport, and one at too high a cost; I wasn’t about to spend all of my work-study money on leather boots and rental fees. And I wasn’t about to audition for a cappella again. It’d broken my heart. Anyone in their right mind would never walk back into the arms of something that had driven you to a place so dark and frightening, but I guess I’m not one to heed warnings, even from myself.
Last Monday night, I trekked to Annenberg, took the elevator up to the top floor, and began the audition process, round II: The Harvard Callbacks. My roommate led me through scales. My linkmate wrote down comments on my tone. My closest friends were openly judging the most intimate part of my identity, which was uncomfortable, to say the least. Then, I was off to the basement of Lowell, where Leah, my musical mentor and very close friend throughout my freshman year, was happily surprised to see my face. I hadn’t told her I was auditioning for The Opportunes because I wasn’t… not until an hour before, when I’d decided that I might as well. (Something along the lines of f*&! it, yolo, etc.) It was happening all over again. I was terrified. The week passed.
Last night, in the Bell Tower, I couldn’t have been farther away from the giddy freshman I was a year ago, happily overwhelmed by the whole audition process, which is very much like how I imagine courting was back in the day, with trinkets and flirting and detached compliments. I was poised. I was restrained. I lowered my shoulders and sang from my diaphragm, preserving my voice throughout the three minutes of my solo so that I’d make it through my upcoming Nostalgics gig an hour later. Although so much was different, I still had chills the entire time the members sang their traditional arrangements, and felt my eyes go blurry with tears on a particularly beautiful resolution. As much as I wanted to keep my hopes down, they were just too strong, and gently pushed up through the depths of my restraints like balloons traveling towards the ocean’s surface. I exhaled. I wrote down my preferences, made my way to the Quad, and began one of the best gigs The Nostalgics have had on campus. After I returned to my room, I started shivering and climbed into bed, my ears ringing from the cheers of our supporting crowd. As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep, a thick blanket of dread covering me more heavily than my quilt. It was around 4 when I stopped looking at my clock and finally rested.
Three hours later, quiet laughter resonated through the Radcliffe Quad. Already on edge, I tensed up, blood surging to my head and filling my ears with the rush of my pulse. The laughter faded. I dozed off.
Ten minutes passed. I awoke to the pounding on my door, the chanting of my monosyllabic name. “REID. REID. REID. REID.” I tried to keep my hands from shaking as I slid out of bed and turned the doorknob, where I was suddenly greeted by a geyser of champagne and a dozen familiar faces. My Opportunes family was here to celebrate, and the smile wouldn’t leave my face even as I showered later, salty tears of pure joy mixing in with the hot water.
This is my golden opportunity. My dream has finally come true.