I'm allergic to Harvard.
I'm allergic to erythromycin. I took it once when I had a cold. I was sixteen and it gave me itching. I mean, everything itched. My legs, my arms, my earlobes. But besides the itching, the erythromycin also made my skin glow. It gave me, like this glowing tan. And I suddenly felt like another person. Different. Better. Prettier, I guess. My allergic reaction made me feel pretty and so I ignored all the bad side effects because suddenly people were talking to me and noticing me. And even though I was itching like crazy, it was worth it to feel accepted. And so I couldn't wait to get a cold so I could take my erythromycin. But underneath that beautiful, glowing skin, I still had that cold.
Have you all seen the movie House Bunny? I'm not sure that I can recommend it because it is mildly inappropriate (I actually censored the quote above a little bit) but I enjoyed watching it! At the climax of the film, Shelley, the protaganist, makes a moving speech before a room of sorority frenemies that saves the day and leads to a wildly unrealistic happily ever after. Though I can't say that Shelley and I have too much in common, after all she is a Play Boy Bunny, the quote above really resonated with me. I know what it's like to love something despite its negative effects.
Three years ago, I sat across from an accomplished Harvard alumnus in his garish sitting room as he interviewed me to determine whether or not he would recommend me for admittance to the college. He was surprisingly easy to talk to and an hour went by in what felt like ten minutes.
"Before you go, I have to ask, why Harvard?"
For college interviews, you expect this question and should come prepared with a respectable answer. I mentioned my love for the urban campus, a brief list of faculty members whose work I admired and the fact that I look great in Crimson. But if we're being honest....why Harvard?
To put it simply, it's the best. I applied because I sought affirmation. An acceptance letter from Harvard is a stamp of approval from one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions. And with that acceptance letter came my glow. I was the first, and still the only, student from my high school to be accepted to Harvard and I cannot express to you the pride that I felt each time someone asked where I would be attending school in the fall. It was intoxicating.
Harvard students and parents joke about "dropping the H-bomb" because, often times, revealing that you, or your child, go to Harvard can be incredibly uncomfortable for everyone involved. I remember being dragged to a graduation party for the granddaughter of one of my grandparents' friends the same year that I had graduated high school. Our grandparents introduced us. I gave her my gift and said congratulations. She told me that she was so excited to start classes at their local community college in the Fall. She asked where I would be attending college and I told her. She turned around and walked away with out a word. Awkward as that interaction was, it, and tons of others like it, was like getting another acceptance letter that told me I was the best.
The summer before college starts, the glow of a Harvard admittance feels like it will last forever, and, from where your family and hometown friends sit, it does...but as soon as you get to campus, be ready for the itch.
Last week, I read an amazing blog post written by Lydia, a junior at MIT, in which she explained her meltdown caused by the ridiculous pressures and expectations placed on students who attend top universities.
There’s this feeling that no matter how hard you work, you can always be better, and as long as you can be better, you’re not good enough. You’re a slacker, you’re stupid, and MIT keeps an overflowing warehouse of proof in the second basement of building 36. There’s stress and there’s shame and there’s insecurity. Sometimes there’s hope. Sometimes there’s happiness. Sometimes there’s overwhelming loneliness. There’s something to giving everything and always falling short.
I don't know what is stored in the basement of building 36, but in her words she captured the state in which so many of my peers and I have been trapped unknowingly for the last few years. Simply reading her description of our mutual reality allowed us to make sense of everything, lifting a crippling weight off of our shoulders, even for just a moment. Thank you, Lydia. (Please find the link to her blog post at the bottom! A must read!)
Harvard is the worst place in the world for a girl like me. I don't need help tearing myself down. I don't need an institution that encourages my comparing myself to everyone else and their accomplishments. I don't need my professors to announce in front of an entire lecture hall that my score on the exam that I spent weeks endlessly studying for was below average. I don't need to hear that my GPA is inadequate. I am perfectly capable of highlighting my own inferiority and quite honestly, Harvard makes me itch.
I still have the glow. My grandparents are still bragging to all of their friends. My resume still has Harvard right at the top. People outside of the Harvard bubble are still impressed with me simply because of the school that I attend. But I'm itching like crazy.
Eventually we’ll walk out with a deep understanding of our fields, a fantastic tolerance for failure and late nights, and raised expectations for ourselves and for humankind. Someday, we’ll look back on these four years as the best years of our lives and the foundations of the kinds of friendships that can only be formed with some suffering. Sometimes it feels like [Harvard] drags your self-esteem over a jagged, gravely rockface and stretches your happiness, your mental health, and the passion and energy that brought you here like an old rubber band.
Unlike Shelley's erythromycin, Harvard does have clear benefits. I'm getting a great education. I love my classes. I have made amazing friends. I am making incredible networking connections and I'm setting myself up for an awesome career.
At the end of the day, I'm not going to transfer. I love Harvard, and if I can say that today, one of the yuckiest slushiest New England days I have ever seen, you know I really mean it. But I have to deal with this itch! I can't spend the next year and a half believing that I will never be good enough.
Luckily, I can find my self-worth in something other than the Harvard glow or my thesis paper or my looks or my cooking or the number of likes on this blog post. My security comes from God and, to be honest, when I have my head on straight about that, the itch goes away and my glow that comes from impressing or even intimidating those around me is replaced with a glow that comes from knowing that I am fearfully and wonderfully made!
If you are ever struggling with feelings of insecurity or inadequacy, here are some scriptures that really encourage me.
1 john 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
Deuteronomy 33:12 Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Matthew 10:30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.