As the bell at Memorial Church rang out, the Class of 2018 — 1,667 members strong — streamed through Harvard Yard on Monday, bound for Freshman Convocation at the Science Center Plaza. The newcomers found their seats to a raucous welcome from the Harvard University Band.
“Every day I wake up I say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I am here at Harvard,’” said Kamran Jamil ’18. “I’m excited; I’m ready to go.”
Sitting next to Jamil was Nian Hu ’18, who said the convocation was a nice way to end Opening Days.
“It’s been really packed with a lot of activities, which has been great in really helping us connect. It seems there is really a great support system in place here for us,” she said.
Opening Days is a week of programs, discussions, and activities to welcome incoming students. The schedule of events culminates in the convocation, an occasion of speeches and greetings from University leaders.
President Drew Faust noted that the Class of 2018 includes students from 69 countries and all 50 states, making it one of the most diverse in Harvard’s history.
“You will learn as much from one another as from any other part of your Harvard experience,” Faust said. “Your differences will be a significant part of the work of discovery you undertake here. You will have to stretch, to reach out, to think differently about who you are because of the combination of contrasts and similarities you find with those around you.
“Our variety as a community makes each of us stronger than we ever could be alone. We complement and extend each other. Our diversity is fundamental to our commitment to excellence.”
As he does with every group of freshmen, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith set out a challenge for the Class of 2018. In his faculty address, Smith told the students, “Don’t compare; connect.”
“Comparing ourselves to others can push us to work harder, to learn more, and to be better human beings. But sometimes it can also lead us to making less of the incredible opportunities before us. It is Harvard’s connections — and not its expansive resources or its long history — that truly set it apart from its peers. Harvard connects the lessons of the past to the challenges of the future. It connects formerly discrete disciplines to each other. It connects classrooms to the world outside them. But most importantly, it connects people, and in doing so shapes what we know, who we are, and how we make our impact on the world.”
After a week of greeting and talking with freshmen, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana took a moment before the convocation to invite the class to participate in a virtual scavenger hunt through his Instagram profile.
“I’ve already had a chance to learn about your amazing backgrounds, and once again I am reminded exactly why I didn’t get into Harvard College when I was in high school,” Khurana joked. “Let me put it this way: It’s easier to become dean of Harvard College than it is to get into the College.”
Khurana said that the many conversations he has had with faculty, students, and staff this summer suggest that the word “transformation” best epitomizes what the community believes is at the heart of the College experience. He told the class that their experiences could be “transactional or transformational,” and strongly urged them to make it the latter.
“To see Harvard as another four years of building your résumé while your life is on hold is to miss out on the best of what this institution can offer — and the best of what you can contribute. College is not a stop on the way to the rest of your life; this is your life. And these four years of college are where the patterns for your lives will be set.
“If you spend these years taking no chances, reinforcing your beliefs, deferring any reflection on who you are and what you want, you will be doing the same thing in 20 years. If you open yourself to what this community has to offer, if you question, if you ask yourself what you believe and who you want to be, then you will begin to see and value yourself in new ways as you evolve into the person you will become.”
The event also included remarks from the president of the Harvard Alumni Association, Cynthia Torres ’80, and performances by the Kuumba Singers, the Harvard University Band, and the Holden Choruses. About 300 alumni from across the country came to campus to serve as marshals.