July 31, 2014
Dear Harvard College Class of 2018,
Congratulations on your admission to Harvard, and thank you for choosing to become a member of this incredible, multi-generational community of learning. I am delighted that you, as members of the Class of 2018, and I, as the new Dean of the College, will have the opportunity to begin this new chapter of our lives together. While I have been at Harvard for a number of years, I officially took over as dean on July 1. As I imagine you will be when you arrive on campus in a few weeks, I have felt elated, anxious, excited and awed by my new role and responsibilities. Now that I have settled into my office in Harvard Yard, I wanted to write to you to share some initial thoughts about the journey we will embark upon together this year – a journey I’ve already begun to document in photographs.
As you begin to think about the courses you plan to take this fall and the extracurricular activities you want to pursue here on campus, I hope you will consider that there is no one way to do Harvard, and there is no ideal Harvard student that you should try to be or against whose image you will be measured here. During your early days at Harvard, you will encounter classmates whose accomplishments will both inspire you and challenge you in new ways. When you meet peers who hail from all over the United States and the world, who have achieved success in areas you know little about, or have mastered something you can’t imagine you would be able to do, you may catch yourself thinking, that person belongs here and I do not. I want to assure you now – and I will remind you again when we meet on campus–that you all belong here. Each of you is here for a reason. You all bring to the Harvard community your own valuable experiences, accomplishments, goals, and aspirations. And each of you has the potential and opportunity to contribute in significant ways to this community.
At the same time, I want to remind you that the accomplishments that led you to Harvard, no matter how impressive or admirable, are only the beginning of your life story. A liberal arts and sciences education offers students the opportunity to have a transformative experience – intellectually, socially and personally. The choices you make about your education over the next four years—the people you meet, the intellectual paths you follow, and the questions you ask about what kind of person you want to become—will shape your life’s story. With this in mind, I want to challenge you to arrive on campus ready to break away from familiar routines and to seek out new challenges. The ways of thinking and learning that have worked for you in the past may seem most comfortable to you, but it is only by pursuing new challenges, by opening your mind to new ways of thinking, and by engaging in conversation with people who are different from you, that you can grow as an individual and as a member of the community. By urging you to seek out new experiences and ideas, I am not discounting what you have already learned. But you will not fully experience the transformative power of your Harvard education if you do not test your ideas by engaging with others who do not share your perspective, by asking questions, and by stepping outside your comfort zone.
You have much to look forward to in the coming year. But leaving home, meeting new people, and facing new challenges will not be easy, and the most important point I want to make in this message is this one: No one got into Harvard alone, and no one has to go through Harvard alone. You are all coming to Harvard because someone somewhere took an interest in you and your future—your parents, your teachers, a mentor, a coach, a friend. There are many people in the Harvard community who are available to help you and who want to get to know you. When you arrive on campus you will be assigned a resident dean, a proctor, a peer advising fellow, and an academic adviser. I encourage you to seek them out often, along with the many other members of the community who are ready and willing to help you. In my own career, and in my new job, I am doing the same. Each day I call on colleagues who have held similar positions and reach out to my College staff for advice and support. These trusted colleagues help me do my job more effectively because of our shared belief that we are here to do something together that none of us could do alone.
The arrival of each new Harvard class represents a moment of renewal for all of us on campus – a chance for us to reconsider who we are as individuals, who we are as a community, and who we are trying to become. As your dean, I am a representative of an entire community that is here to support and encourage you as you create your own story here at Harvard. I am looking forward to meeting you when you arrive in the Yard in August, and to getting to know you and learning from you during these next four years.
Dean of Harvard College