The Working Definition of a Harvard Student (For the Media's Eyes Only)


Every time someone asks me where I go to school, I whisper, “Harvard” with a little surge of pride and a tiny smile.  The reaction is generally varying forms of awe and sometimes followed with a “congratulations” or “you must be really smart.”  Today, someone asked where I went to school and when I said “Harvard” they answered, “So how many of your tests have you actually studied for?”


I know how to handle a number of reactions to the “where do you go to school?” question.  I know how to be humble, how to be polite, how to change the topic if need be.  This response however, I had no idea how to answer.  I was too dumbstruck that anyone could even think that about Harvard.


Right now, the media thinks that Harvard shouldn’t even offer tests because we’re either going to cheat on them, fake a bomb hoax to get out of them, or ace them without merit anyway.  This is disgraceful.  The permanent bags under our eyes do not come from sitting in our dorm rooms eating bon-bons and watching paint dry, FYI.  They come from weeks on end of staying up until the sun rises, of running from meeting to class to meeting without a break for sixteen hours, from an entire semester on four hours of sleep because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.


This is what the world thinks of Harvard students right now, that we are lazy, self-absorbed, manipulative twenty-year-olds who have it easy and will do anything that we can to get that A and get out of doing the work.  The reality is that we are motivated, passionate, hard-working twenty-year-olds that fight for everything we have and work for the future of our dreams.  The ones that receive a voice in the media are the ones that instigate such a poorly representative stereotype – the ones that fake bomb threats and cheat on exams.  So, I’m here to explain the way most of us are feeling, the way the rest of us define ourselves: as proud students of Harvard University.


Harvard Student: (for reference see: not what you think)


In many ways the “typical Harvard student” is just like any other student.  There is no one standard, nothing that can classify every single one of us into a certain category besides the fact that we all attend the same university.  We are also pretty much all Type A in some way and a bit overly neurotic, though some of us do a better job of hiding it than others.    Much like any other student, we don’t like exams (gasp!) however; most of us suck it up and deal with them (contrary to popular belief).  Some of us go out frequently and some of us could not explain the rules of beer pong if our lives depended on it.  Some of us are involved in as many as twelve extracurricular activities and some succeed at one.  Some of us travel every single break and some of us have never been on a plane before.  We are all different.  The common thread is that we are all incredibly driven and the word “bored” cannot exist in our vocabulary.


Harvard is the most amazing place I have ever been for the small things, the little conversations that should mean nothing but end up enlightening you on some deeper, relevant level.  The teachers that should just be lecturers but end up shaping the course of your entire academic career.  The one assignment that ends up becoming a ten-year work in progress.  The “typical Harvard student” is someone who is afforded all of these opportunities.  We do not sit in class thinking that we are God’s gift to mankind because most of us understand that Harvard is God’s gift to us.


Harvard is also the most intense place that I have ever been.  To anyone who thinks we slack on anything, I challenge you to sit in one of our dining halls.  Watch the number of students who are actually taking a break for dinner fly through the serving station, put a sandwich in a napkin and run back to the library.  Count the number of people who are actually sitting at dinner with friends versus the number of people that are in dinner meetings.  Tally the number of people that are eating with a book, newspaper, or laptop in front of them (and then generously hand me a dollar for every one you see).  Everything at Harvard is intense.  From our classes to our casual conversations, from our semesters to our breaks, Harvard students do not know how to relax or take things the easy route.  We sacrifice social events and more entertaining alternatives to spend an extra hour polishing that essay and we know that one-day, it’s going to pay off.


Just like every institution, pros come with cons.  Exorbitant opportunity often includes incredible amounts of stress.  Having mind-blowing peers elicits significant competition if you allow yourself to start comparing yourself to others.  Harvard provides us with phenomenal resources but it’s the students that have to do the work.


And do the work, we will.


There are going to be more scandals related to Harvard.  There are going to be more news posts trying to tear it down.  There are going to be more ungrateful students who do spiteful or stupid things but that’s humanity at its core.  “Harvard student” is not equivalent to “cheater.”  It is not the same as “devious” or “malicious” or “ungrateful.”  If you look it up in the dictionary, there’s no definition there yet.  So, instead of assigning us labels based on the few who opt out, let the rest of us set the precedent for the incredible things we are doing every day.  Let the ones that do good overshadow the few that choose not to and eventually, you will achieve your working definition of what it means to be a student at Harvard.  Being a “Harvard student” is the most rewarding, incredible, inspirational name that I have ever been called and the only reaction I will ever have to being called a student of this university is overwhelming, grateful pride.