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From Harvard to home

Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 1:49 p.m. CDT

And the results were in. After a knock around 1 a.m., I excitedly answered the door. I knew from the look on the faces of the outgoing house presidents, that I would soon be disappointed. “Haley, we’re here to deliver some bad news …”

My latest semester at Harvard (hard to believe it has been my fifth!) has been … real. The highlights have included tackling the New York City subway, taking a research seminar on the biology of stress, and exploring Boston outside of Harvard Square on my new (to me) bike and shiny pink helmet. My bonds with roommates, classmates and mentors have grown stronger, and the roots sinking into the East Coast have solidified the feeling of home in a no longer foreign place. Returning to Illinois to visit family during Thanksgiving and Christmas has been a pleasure, but I truly cannot wait to return.

So you may be wondering why this latest installment had a forlorn beginning. To fully explain, I’ll need to delve into the culture of Harvard and how the undergraduate body is divided into 12 houses (residential dorms), each with about 450 students. If you’re familiar with the “houses” of Harry Potter, I’m pleased to say our system is similar. However, rather than Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, we have Quincy, Eliot and Dunster, to name a few. Come sophomore year, students are placed into a house with a group of their closest peers. I was placed into Adams House (although having “Adams” as a surname isn’t a perquisite), and since then, it has become not only my physical home, but a source of community, happiness and support. Several house events, formals, banquets and casual gatherings offer community, and two housemasters even serve as the parental figures

I have always felt a unique bond with my house community, leading me to join the house committee last year. I was elected secretary of the board and devoted several hours per week. In addition to sending out weekly minutes, I planned formals, set up decorations, organized speakers for banquets, and even planned outings to apple orchards, Walden Pond and Red Sox games. I loved Adams House and all it was offering me. I belonged somewhere, and those I loved enjoyed the fruits of my labor. The smiles on the faces of guests entering our most recent “Harry Potter” themed formal were simply priceless. Their enjoyment made the neglected term papers and several late nights spent decorating Diagon Alley storefronts, truly worth it.

My involvement in the house committee made me a central figure within the Adams House community, and with the support and encouragement of my peers and housemasters, I decided to run for president this past month. I made posters and reached out to those house residents I did not know. I made it clear I thought I was the best one for the position. My friends reassured me I was. They told me not to worry, that I was a shoe-in, even though there were four other candidates who had all been on the committee board the year before. I would be speaking a fallacy if I said I was worried. I was confident, so confident that I began to make note of new initiatives I would take and prepared myself to take on the duties of president.

You can probably guess how this story ends; the climax may seem evident at this point. The news delivered to me the evening of the final election night was a disappointment. I had lost. By a margin of less than 20 votes, I had lost the election. Half in disbelief, I stood in my doorway as tears streamed down my face. My greatest source of joy had been taken from me. I felt as though I had failed.

Although, I am still disappointed, I’ve moved on.  I have accepted the fact that things simply (rather hardly) turn out the way we expect. The support of my closest friends was there when I needed it, but an unlikely source of encouragement affected me the most. The day after the election, some friends had a gathering, and a girl whose name I did not know approached me.

“I just wanted to let you know, I voted for you. Two years ago you came up to me and introduced yourself when I was alone at lunch, and I thought that was cool.” I had clearly left an impression on her, and now she was giving me a reason to smile and the confidence to move forward, at a time when that felt all but impossible.

The truth is, I still live in Adams House, I’m still surrounded by some of the greatest people I’ll ever meet, and I still want to do the best I can to make it a great community. I’m a true believer in the “when one door closes …” mentality, so I suppose I will start looking for that window.

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

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