My husband is a cyclist. He wears tiny spandex shorts and rides more than 10,000 miles a year. I have not been on that journey with him; the roads seemed too scary and dangerous. When I moved near Cambridge, driving became much more difficult. I started riding the bike path to the subway to get to HGSE. Slowly my confidence improved, and now I ride directly to Harvard each day through crazy mazes of traffic. I still remember being too scared to tackle the roads, but now I also feel a surprising love for the daily bit of exercise and connection to my new home, thanks to my bike.
Now, for those of you considering Harvard, I’ve got an analogy for you. Let’s get personal for a moment, shall we? I grew up in poverty. There is no father on my birth certificate, but there were a string of “dads” that exemplified bits of terrible humanity. I went to an inner-city public school system with widely varying teacher and programming quality. My mom was partially disabled and only worked the lowest paying jobs. Harvard was so far away from a possibility that it seems laughable that I ever made it here. And yet here I am!
Last week as I began my commute, there were two fancy bikers with their clip-in shoes and team jerseys. I looked just like the picture above; fifteen pounds in my backpack, jeans, heavy bike with flat pedals. And wouldn’t you know? I blew past those fancy dudes, with their bikes that cost more than my car, because I had places to go.
It doesn’t matter what baggage you carry, or what metaphorical “bike” you ride to get here. Your backstory is not your destiny. It doesn’t matter that some people are better equipped than you, or that they can theoretically go faster. What matters is that you move forward. You can’t get into Harvard without applying. And that baggage? Well, it makes me smarter, more engaged, and more connected to the work. I’m a better educator as a result of my upbringing. Be brave. The ride is totally worth the risk.
Charlotte Dungan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Learning and Teaching program. She has worked and learned alongside her four children in home education networks, independent schools, and summer camps. She has a passion for child-directed learning experiences and plans to start a Family School upon graduation.