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From Harvard to home

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Greetings from Cambridge!

During my sophomore year of high school, Ronda Marquis gave a piece of advice during literature class I will never forget. She told us someday, we would leave this “little pond” of Princeton High School and realize we were “small fish in a big ocean.”

This brought to mind one question I have been frequently asked regarding Harvard: “Is it hard?”

Is it “hard” academically? Yes, of course. I had to learn how to study on my own for midterms that may account for 30 percent of a semester grade. There are no longer “study guides” like the ones for every test in junior high telling us exactly what to know; no more convenient word banks from which to select an answer; and multiple choice questions rarely have one clear cut answer. Professors expect a lot, but they should. They are here to challenge us.

Is it “hard” emotionally to be 1,000 miles away from home? Yes and no. Though I enjoy being independent and living on my own, I must say, I do miss my family. I think about them every day, but the cards, care packages of Thin Mints, new socks and even a customized LCN door closer cover bring me constant joy, knowing I have an amazing support system back home that is cheering me on. And thankfully, with today’s technology, they are only a phone call, text, email, Skype or FaceTime away.

Is it “hard” physically? I am sure any college student could attest that life is physically taxing. Trekking across campus with a 25-pound backpack all day is tiring, and the shift in my sleep schedule definitely took some getting used to. Often times, going to the MQC (Math Question Center) at 10:30 at night to finish (or start) a problem set (a notoriously difficult set of homework questions designed to cause many sleepless nights) is often the last thing I want to do.

But the hardest thing about Harvard, in my opinion, and one of the greatest lessons I believe I will learn during my time here, is learning not to compare. To compare yourself to others sets you up for failure and disappointment. In an environment such as Harvard, where I live among a few thousand of the brightest, most-talented students in the world, it’s easy to label myself as average. Mediocre. Run-of-the-mill. Nothing special. Its easy to look at the person sitting next to me in calculus watching “The Hangover” on his laptop and be frustrated knowing he’ll ace the final, while I’m struggling to keep up with the professor’s calculations on the board. The truth is, there will always be someone smarter, faster and better than yourself. Always. You can study for two weeks to earn a B on an exam, yet there will always be 10 other students who didn’t study, and easily managed an A. You may have a great interview, but there will always be others who are more qualified for the position. You can run your heart out in a race, maybe shave 3 seconds off your best time, but there will always be someone faster.

So yes, Harvard is hard; it is a big pond, and I am a small fish. And over the next four years, I will most likely realize just how small of a fish I am. Yet I hope I will also discover the true freedom that comes with accepting yourself, regardless of how you compare to a bigger fish. And with that, I thank you for taking time during your busy day to read what I have to say, and hopefully, I left you with something worth remembering as you continue to navigate the waters of life.

Haley Adams, a Princeton High School graduate, is a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. She can be reached at haleyadams@college.harvard.edu.

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