Shopping week, when students are encouraged to investigate any and all courses of interest, had arrived. I dived into the digital course catalog like a student cramming five minutes before class. Before me were humanities courses I only dreamed of taking before Harvard. From “American Indian History in Four Acts” and “Byzantine Civilization” to “Intermediate Ancient Greek” and “A Global History of Modern Times” — I could picture myself in all of them, each deepening my knowledge in a subject of great personal importance. As my list filled, conflicting times and locations served as a reality check, and I envisioned myself sitting at my grandmother’s table, her words echoing in my ears: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” Clearly I had to scale back, and pace myself. After all, I still have years to go.
By the time I filled my list with the necessary classes for my desired concentration and other requirements, I was left with six course options to fill two spots. The shopping had indeed begun. I would be running from the Barker Center to the Science Center to Northwest Labs and beyond. I had to split one period between two history courses, the first across campus from the second. The decisions weighed heavy on my mind, as it felt that my choices would define my entire college experience. I wanted to pursue my love of the ancient while maintaining a versatile, not-impractical schedule. Balancing my love of history with my passion for the Classics, all while considering a possible career path, became overwhelming.
I sought advice from my mentors. Talking with my aunt and uncle — Harvard College alumni — left me more confident than ever in my desire to pursue my intellectual passions rather than strategically fill my transcript in preparation for the “real world.” Nearing a final decision, I spoke with my first-semester ancient history professor — as much rock star as professor. I quite literally had to pinch myself that one of the greatest minds in the field was sharing her wisdom, helping me find my way as a freshman.
Finally, I headed to the Coop to look at the texts. Once I held in my hands “Leviathan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood” — written by the professor of one of my possible courses — I allowed my desire to see world history through new and different lenses to finalize my schedule. While I wanted to continue my focus on the ancient, I suspected that “Byzantine History” would patiently wait until next semester.
One might think shopping week was created only to settle class schedules, but for me it had much greater significance. It gave me the gift of attention, enabling me to ponder my path as a student in both a smaller and larger sense. Considering the intellectual passions that motivate me every day, and where they might lead, was an exercise long in coming. Having the opportunity to discuss my education with such bright minds opened my eyes not only to what I might study, but to where those studies might lead.
To say shopping week was a success is an understatement. Now that I have a working schedule, I recognize the inherent value of the process, imparting more than merely classes on a transcript. I now have a (tentative) roadmap for my education, as well as a must-take class list for next semester. I’ve also gained counsel to guide me as I make future choices, giving me strength to follow lifelong passions.
Matthew DeShaw is a freshman residing in Hurlbut Hall. He writes an occasional column about his experiences as a member of Harvard’s Class of 2018.