I remember this time last year, being still unsure of the exact route I wanted my career to take and of my shortlisted colleges that somehow seemed to lead up to that. A compulsive curiosity to know everything I can so I can get a “feel” of it, I had just spent 7 hours straight watching videos from HGSE, trying to see if I could picture myself there. I was far from convinced. Until I came across a goofy “Stories from Appian Way” video about a man in search of a Harvard bag. In that video-marathon-induced delirium, I thought that was the most hilarious thing I had seen in a while. More importantly though, something about that told me, I would fit in. From then on, in the admissions process, it was mostly just trying to put into words why as I completed my application essays, knowing in my gut that this was the only place I wanted to really go.
A year later, after having gotten 7 hours of sleep for the first time after 3 weeks of finals, that gut feeling is probably what has still stayed with me. It’s been a semester of moments like that. That warmth in the belly that comes from knowing I belong. I don’t know how else to describe the roller-coaster of a semester it’s been – unlearning and relearning everything I have known about the world, learning about all the possibilities of the people I could be, and finding out that each one of those seems to find comfortable belonging here.
It’s a montage of moments like these that I would send to the me a year ago to ease all that anxiety: Sitting by the mound outside Gutman Library in the first month here, basking in the sun, discussing the belief systems we brought here, and watching them unfold as we added layers from each others’ experiences. Sitting in the massive T-550 class, rediscovering everything I have known about learning, and arranging these aha-moments collectively on post-its. Hearing 140 students stand up in the Public Narratives class, describe their stories and hope in 10 seconds one after the other. Reflecting on my “researcher” identity at the end of “Interviewing for Qualitative research” class, and hearing back from the professor with personalized comments in response. Coming clean to my statistics professor about my fear for stats, and have him respond most reassuringly, putting my learning at the center of the conversation. “I want you to walk away comfortable with stats”, as he always said. Sharing lessons and ideas from a semester with my cohort in a formal event, and having them write back with suggestions, feedback, links and resources, as well as wise words of encouragement; and learning things as varied as race theory to blacksmithing at the event. Coffee dates with classmates as we mutually reflect on the questions we picked up from our classes, and finding their connections for further exploration in the answers we also found there. Specialized Studies Fridays, where we have strung together our thoughts from the week as a cohort over a few beers. Beverages and “everything-you-know”-altering conversations in general. Having a panic attack in the middle of the library the week before finals, only to be hugged until I was calm again (and fed cookies) by a fellow classmate I have barely spoken to before, who turned out to be a secret ninja in the subject I was panicking about, willing to tutor me even in the middle of all her own madness. Finding words to my feelings and getting over my fear of the camera at the same time as I recorded my story for “Double Take”, and then ugly crying after being immensely moved by the stories others shared at the school-wide Double-Take event. Making sense of the elections through origami and art as much as through informed conversations and community meetings. Dancing to Bollywood music in the library the week before finals. The Dean serving us Thanksgiving lunch. Meeting the “bag-guy” from the aforementioned video, telling him how that video changed my decision, which led to a conversation brainstorming ways to take ahead the project I worked on over the summer.
The first thing we were told in our cohort orientation was, “Everything here is for the asking, all you have to do is ask”. A semester later, I see what that means. It’s been a semester of being exposed to just an unbelievable wealth of wisdom. It has been enriching in ways that has expanded my brain in directions I didn’t previously know existed. Of having access to the people I had been studying for so long (and I am not talking only about “I almost dropped coffee on them on my way to school” kind of access); access that is comfortable enough to go in with my unformed questions and coming out with multiple pathways of discovery opened up before me. Of meeting people, who, along with having the wisest wisdom and a whole range of stories to share, are also people who you can count on to genuinely care. People filled with a certain kind of optimism, the kind which draws them to think of changing the world through education, and have them actively engage with me with that in tow. And of finding my place within it, a place that’s evolving, with a kind of faith that no matter the expansion or shape-shifting, there will still be room for it. Of learning about “asking” as an act of belonging within it.
As one of my professors once said in class, “Be a wedge in the door. And then find the community of such wedges in the doors to help open them for you”. What that girl watching those 7 hours of video didn’t know last year, is that this is what perhaps makes this place what it is, that warmth of belonging from cultivating relationships that are as much about laughter as about learning. That community of wedges in the doors, helping each other grow and evolve as they figure out their place in the world they want to create.