You can feel it. This time of year breathes a sense of the new and the familiar, mixed with a touch of uncertainty. The long-lasting traditions that welcome Harvard students have become new again. Resource fairs, orientations, panels, lofty speeches, dinners, tours, and service days have greeted incoming students all across the University. At these events, I have had a chance to reflect on my own experience as new students have asked for my biggest advice on being a graduate student at Harvard.
I’d like to share with you a way of thinking about your experience here as a student that will stay with you and can change your life forever. You might think I’m being a little dramatic, but I’m speaking from experience.
Don’t plan to leave Harvard with just a degree in a specific discipline. Plan to leave with your whole Harvard experience.
While we have 12 graduate Schools here, we only have one Harvard. Harvard means more than just a collection of books donated by a man whose face is inaccurately portrayed on a statue in the Yard. Harvard is what binds us together as a student community and what will keep us together as alumni for life. Although your academic experiences might differ across disciplines, you are first a Harvard student. Then, you are a government, law, design, theology, public health, education, medical, dental, engineering, or doctoral student. Take a look at your “home” School name and see what comes first.
This way of thinking about your experience is the key to unlocking the most out of your time at Harvard. This year, get out of your “home” grad school bubble and make connections across the University. Nurture your sense of intellectual curiosity and passion for making a difference in the world. You will not only open your mind to new possibilities, but you might meet that new business partner to launch your startup or make that one introduction, combined with your crazy idea, that could save many lives. And along the way, you might just make some lifelong friends.
Harvard has introduced me to friends who are blasting particles through tubes in laboratories that have emergency chemical showers in the hallway, friends who are working with mice to extend human life spans and cure cancer, friends who are legal experts on mergers and acquisitions, friends who are making investment decisions worth billions of dollars, friends who wrote speeches for POTUS, friends who are Black Hawk helicopter pilots, friends who can help me sequence my DNA on campus, and the list goes on.
There is no single School at Harvard where you can build these kinds of diverse social and academic relationships. You need to realize you are part of something even bigger than you imagined when you applied. Now that you are here, make the most of it.
New and returning students, welcome to Harvard.
Philip Harding is an M.P.P. student at Harvard Kennedy School and president of the Harvard Graduate Council, the student government for the 12 graduate and professional Schools.