Many memories of early days on campus remain vivid for Benjamin Porteous. One was arriving at Annenberg, the first-year dining hall. He recalls being impressed by the ornate, cavernous 9,000-square-feet room, which can seat more than 1,000 and bears a striking resemblance to the Great Hall at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. He also recalls being more than a little nervous.
Thankfully that didn’t last long. Porteous began feeling more at home after meeting John S. Martin, a Harvard University Dining Services worker who welcomes students at the door with a warm smile and friendly banter as he swipes in their IDs. Martin became an endearing and memorable presence in the lives of many classes of first-years, with his affable demeanor and legendary memory — he keeps at his fingertips the names of all the students he meets, their families, and even their interests.
So much so that he — and the impact he has had on students’ lives — is the subject of Porteous’ Latin Salutatory: “Iohannes de Annenberge,” or “John from Annenberg,” as he is popularly known on campus.
“Every single member of our class ate in that dining hall and went through those doors and met John,” Porteous said. “He has greeted and welcomed people. He has shown warmth, care, and genuine love for students.”
After working at Annenberg Hall for 12 years, Martin began working at Dunster’s dining hall in February. Martin and his wife have been invited to Commencement, and Porteous hopes that everybody will join in the celebration and his salute to Martin.
“Hopefully, the speech can be a little token of gratitude to him for all he has done, and by extension to all the essential workers for all they have done throughout these several years,” said Porteous, a Leverett House resident who concentrated in East Asian studies. “There are essential workers who are really dedicated, and they brighten people’s lives.”
Like the time Martin recognized Porteous when they ran into each other on campus after the pandemic restrictions were lifted. They hadn’t seen each other for two years, and the encounter moved Porteous deeply. “Without missing a beat, John remembered my name, where I was from, and that I was homeschooled,” said Porteous, who was born in South Africa and grew up in Arlington, Mass. “It was incredible.”
After graduation, Porteous plans to enter a master’s degree program in East Asian studies at Harvard and pursue a Ph.D. in comparative Latin, Greek, and Classical Chinese. He will be working as a proctor with the Dean of Students Office, a job where he hopes to follow Martin’s example to make students feel welcome and part of a community.
“In the speech, I wrote about the fact that when we first arrived on campus and went into Annenberg, it was kind of scary and daunting,” said Porteous. “And then we met John. He represents the best of what Harvard College is trying to do with creating a welcoming home for students.”