The Harvard Dream
Harvard is a dream for many high school students. They imagine themselves sheltered by the ancient trees of the Old Yard as they stroll to their next class. But why is Harvard such a dream? Maybe because it is the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S., or perhaps because the college is one of the hardest to gain acceptance to. It is elite and challenging, but from what a CAA coach saw, Harvard definitely lives up to its awesome reputation.
Established in 1636 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Great and General Court, the school was first used to educate men for the clergy. Over the years, it has transformed into one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. for both men and women, offering over 45 concentrations (majors) of study. To its longstanding traditions and rich history, Harvard adds a developing future that continues to keep new generations interested in the school. Traditions at Harvard truly make this school a home for its students, especially undergraduates. One special tradition involves the students’ actual homes on campus. The day before spring break is known as “Housing Day” at Harvard, when the upper classmen run through the Old Harvard Yard into the freshmen houses to reveal, in the craziest and most absurd ways, which house each freshman will live in for the next three years. This celebration is one of the most exciting days at Harvard because where you live matters! There are 12 undergraduate houses, and each has its own special traditions and annual formal dance. They also have a live-in housemaster who is a top professor in their field. House members share almost every aspect of daily life. They even compete together against the other houses in intramural sports. This special housing arrangement helps keep students engaged both socially and academically during their time at Harvard. And, when two Harvard alumni meet, their first question will usually be, “Which was your house?” As the first established institution of higher education in the U.S., Harvard obviously has a deep and rich history. Each building on campus has its own story, but the Widener Library’s should be known by all current and potential Harvard students. Standing at the edge of Harvard Yard, The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library opened in 1915 and was dedicated to and named after, you guessed it, Harry Widener, a 1907 Harvard graduate. Harry was a lover and collector of rare books. The story goes that he drowned on the Titanic after going back from one of the life boats to rescue his most prized rare book he had left on the ship. Before he died, Harry’s wish was to donate his book collection to Harvard, but he would not do so until the school built an appropriate facility. In the wake of his death, his mother donated $1 million toward a new library, along with most of his book collection, but she had a few caveats for the memorial building. One of them was that the building must stand in its original form throughout its time on Harvard’s campus. This meant that Harvard could not build up or around the original four walls. But over time it became impossible for the building to hold Harvard’s growing collection – now the largest academic library in the world. Ever faithful to tradition, Harvard solved the problem by expanding underground.
Despite its many traditions, buildings, and rules, Harvard is ever evolving to meet each generation’s expectations. Once thought of as a strong liberal arts college, Harvard’s fastest growing concentrations are now in the computer and physical sciences. The school encourages students to carefully consider their concentration before declaring during their sophomore year and even allows students to create their own, if no existing ones match their true interests. They also encourage students to “shop” their classes before taking them to be sure they are the right fit. With a 98 percent graduation rate, they’re certainly doing something right. Harvard’s resources are abundant, including a large film archive, research forest, and 12 on-campus teaching museums. Students fortunate enough to attend will not only form lasting bonds with their housemates, they will also learn how to thrive and succeed in their selected study area.