July 31, 2015
Dear Harvard College Class of 2019,
I am so glad that you chose to come to Harvard, and I am very excited to meet you when you arrive on move-in day. In the meantime, I wanted to write to you to share some thoughts as you prepare for this exciting new chapter of your life.
As freshmen, you will come together in Harvard Yard, the “front door” of Harvard, to live with your classmates in a diverse, supportive community. This community exists because each of you brings to Harvard your own talents and accomplishments, your own valuable experiences and perspectives, and your own sense of purpose. As you prepare for the many new experiences that await you in Cambridge, I want to remind you that each of you is coming to Harvard for a reason, and you all belong here. I hope that when you arrive, you will not measure yourself in comparison to others, but remember instead to connect your special talents and lived experiences with members of the larger community so that you might help shape Harvard into a place you are proud to call your own.
I cannot think of a better place to live and to learn than Harvard College. Here, you will work alongside faculty and researchers to contribute to our knowledge about who we are as humans and to engage in inquiry that can impact the world. Here, as you seek out new experiences and ideas, you will stretch yourself and test your own ideas by engaging with others who have different views and perspectives. Here, you will have the chance to ask important questions and to move beyond the familiar routines you have established over the years. I hope you will embrace these opportunities, even when they require you to step outside of your comfort zone. As a college student, you are not expected to strive for that illusory standard of perfection. The mask of perfection wears us down, and it prevents us from growing and learning. Real learning is always challenging and risky, and confronting unfamiliar situations and ideas is the essence of a liberal arts and sciences education. At Harvard, you will experience moments of triumph, but you will also experience moments of uncertainty, discomfort and unforeseen setbacks - all of which is expected and necessary for you to become the resilient and responsible citizens and citizen-leaders that our world needs.
During your four years on campus, the people you will meet, the choices you will make about your education, and the questions you ask about what kind of person you want to become will shape your life’s story. As you embark on this journey, please know you have the full support of the Harvard community behind you. No one gets to Harvard alone - and in turn, no one goes through Harvard alone. When you arrive on campus in a few short weeks, you will be assigned a resident dean, a proctor, a peer advising fellow, and an academic adviser to support you. I encourage you to consult these individuals 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 time as Dean, I have always sought guidance and support. My colleagues and advisers help me do my job more effectively and help me recover my self-confidence when I’ve made mistakes, in large part because we share the belief that we are here to do something together that none of us could do alone.
In choosing Harvard, you have chosen to be part of the nation’s oldest institution of higher learning. In your time here, you will take part in our important traditions, help us to leave behind those that hold us back, and join us in creating new ones. Most importantly, we hope you will embrace our best values: community, accountability, and hard work. The successes of our past have proven what can be accomplished when these values guide us - and when we have the will to act on them. As each of you prepares to take your place in this vibrant community, I ask that you think about how you will leave your mark, not just on Harvard, but on society. Harvard’s past may be written, but each of you holds a pen to write our future.
I am looking forward to learning from you during these next four years.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College