What I learned from a Harvard education
I graduated on May 26, less than two weeks ago. During a car ride just a few days ago, my mom asked me, “So, what’s one thing you learned from Harvard that you will carry with you for the rest of your life?” It was a hard question to pick one, so I didn’t answer for a long time. This was the answer I finally settled on.
The biggest thing a Harvard education taught me is that a Harvard education is not enough.
At the end of four years of Harvard, all I can think about is how much more I still need to learn to achieve the kind of life I want, and how much of it isn’t part of a Harvard education. That’s a lesson I won’t forget.
For me and many others, getting into Harvard was an impossible dream come true. So as entering freshmen, many of us felt that by getting into Harvard we’d probably ensured ourselves at least some measure of success. It’s implied in the way we’re congratulated and in the expectations we set for ourselves: we’re set for life, we’re told, and I think most of us kind of believe it.
But I don’t think we are set after all. What does Harvard guarantee? It guarantees a Harvard diploma, and the prestige and respect that comes with that. It guarantees classes with world-class experts, and it guarantees an impressive set of future connections. That’s a pretty great start for anyone. But it’s up to you to add the rest of the pieces.
I certainly don’t mean to belittle the education I received at Harvard. In fact, I’ve come to this conclusion in part through the professors and classmates who have challenged and taught me. They’ve exemplified to me, in so many ways, the kind of success I would like to achieve for myself, and by doing so have also shown me things that weren’t necessarily part of the curriculum. You could say I’ve been very lucky to meet people who were the best kind of supplementary education you could get.
So there were people at Harvard who showed me the kind of life I want to lead. At the same time, though, there were also classmates at Harvard who, though they were getting the exact same diploma, seemed to lack the traits I so admired in others. And there were many, many people who I met outside of Harvard over four years, some without a diploma from any place, who exemplified those same traits some of my classmates lacked.
Harvard is, no doubt, a boost up. But four years there taught me most to see what wasn’t guaranteed from a Harvard education, what things I’d have to work on mostly by myself or through experience. How to stand up for yourself. How to maintain personal integrity. How to give. How to take risks. In other words, Harvard gave me this: because I know now what else there is to learn, I’ll always consider myself a work in progress. Now that I’ve graduated, I can finally continue my education.