Life at Harvard can be a big adjustment for freshmen — and for their parents.
“I went to his multivariable calculus class, and the only part of the lecture I didn’t understand was the part after the professor said, ‘Good morning,’” joked Matthew Gollub of Santa Rosa, Calif., who was visiting his son Jacob during Freshman Parents Weekend.
After two hectic months of picking classes, signing up for extracurricular activities, adjusting to roommates’ idiosyncrasies, problem sets, and midterms, most Harvard freshmen have settled into College life, and were ready to introduce it to moms and dads from across the country.
The annual welcoming of parents included faculty presentations, tours, open houses, and a chance for parents to sit in on classes. “It’s like a candy store of activities,” said Julie Huettner of Rochester, Minn., as she toured Lamont Library.
For Gollub, not all of his son’s classes were as befuddling as calculus.
“The jazz theory class that he has, I sort of understood. I’m a jazz drummer myself, so I was able to appreciate that a little more,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, President Drew Faust and interim College Dean Donald Pfister welcomed parents at a packed Sanders Theatre.
Faust told the parents that their children have been building new friendships and communities since they arrived, and that “every encounter at Harvard is an opportunity.” To make the most out of these, she said, students must be open to new ideas and possibilities.
“There are many, many opportunities to develop and share one’s interests across the University, and I want your children to feel comfortable here — to seek out and contribute to causes and communities that matter to them. But at the same time, I want your children to feel comfortable with being a little bit uncomfortable, to embrace ever-present opportunities to upset their notions of who they are as they imagine the possibilities of who they want to be,” Faust said. “If one of Harvard’s greatest strengths is bringing extraordinary people together, then one of the greatest strengths of the liberal arts education we offer is enabling people to exceed their own expectations. Be ready for them to surprise themselves.”
To demonstrate how “thoughtful, honorable, good-humored, and analytical” the freshmen are, Pfister said if you asked class members how many Tater Tots Harvard serves in a year, the answers would vary. Some students would research how many potatoes were used; others would develop a metric; some would say Tater Tots are not healthy and should not be “exploited”; while others would simply answer, “A Tater Tot and a French fry walk into a bar …”
“This fanciful consideration of Tater Tots is simply meant to underscore the qualities we love and value in your children, as well as our appreciation for the way you parents have reared them. Your freshmen are analytical, have a point of view, and are able to see and react with humor,” said Pfister, the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany, who on Saturday led freshmen and their families on a tree tour of the Yard.
He pointed out that even though the students are intelligent and talented, “it is not unusual for freshmen to find themselves in a quandary, perhaps even a serious quandary, and sometimes several quandaries at once.” But Harvard has a tremendous support structure to help them, he added.
“Simply put, there are many whose job is to answer nearly any question a freshman might have,” he said. “We are all involved in the process: you, me, and the community.”
After the president’s and dean’s remarks, members of Harvard’s improvisation group, the Immediate Gratification Players, performed several scenes to add humor to some real-life situations, including dealing with roommates, getting a bad grade, coming home for winter break, and the 1 a.m. phone call home.
The performance resonated with the audience, as parents laughed at the familiar scenes. A panel of administrators then addressed the themes portrayed in each presentation.
“What you may find after the 1 a.m. call is that you will not be able to get back to sleep, but your son or daughter has moved on,” said Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman.