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#tbt: When We Were Compers


I had never heard of “comp” before coming to Harvard. During Visitas and Freshman Week, I often heard the word floating around in activities fairs, and had the chance to learn a little more about this tradition that is unique to Harvard. Comp, originating from either “competition” or “competence,” is a process which students must complete to become official members of an organization. With a rich history dating back to The Institute of 1770, Harvard’s first club, comp is now common for organizations in areas such as journalism. Comps today are a way for students to demonstrate their commitment and unlike before, they are more about completion than competition. 

Exactly one week ago, I completed my comp for the Harvard International Review— my first comp ever! Even before knowing what that word meant or much of anything about extracurriculars on campus, I knew that I wanted to join the HIR because it combined two of my absolute favorite things: international affairs and writing. Founded in 1979, the Harvard International Review is a student-run quarterly publication that features articles written by professionals and pioneers in various sectors of international relations, from government to global health to human rights law (all of which are incredibly fascinating to me!). In the past few years, we have had articles and interviews with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, South African President Jacob Zuma, and former US President Bill Clinton, to name just a few.


I keep a few issues handy for inspiration. Bottom: the envelope containing my HIR board assignment-- the owl has spoken!
Above: I keep a few issues handy for inspiration. Bottom: the envelope containing my HIR board assignment– the owl has spoken!

While getting to closely interact with presidents and revise their writing is pretty amazing, to say the least, that is not the main reason I joined the HIR. My favorite part about the HIR is that unlike many publications, it does not focus on covering breaking news and top stories. Rather, it devotes itself to delving into underappreciated topics and also underappreciated perspectives on popular issues, which is a goal that is extremely important to me. There are so many pressing issues in human rights and public policy that never make it to the front page of big newspapers, and for the ones that do, the coverage often lacks nuanced discussion and analysis.

With all of the anticipation and excitement, I was ready to take on the comp. The process basically consisted of attending weekly one-hour meetings and completing weekly assignments from mid-September to early November. Each week’s meeting was dedicated to a presentation on a specific responsibility or body within HIR, such as Soliciting, Nitpick Edits, Big-Picture Edits, and more. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I actually learned a lot from each comp assignment. Contrary to some popular perception, comp assignments are not simply busy work invented to make prospective members miserable— you really get as much as you put into it!

We ended our comp with the best way to end just about anything— a scavenger hunt! Dashing from Lamont to Lowell, searching for clues at the T stop, and reenacting battle with the Hessians (in what felt like below zero temperature, no less)— all of this filled the night with endless laughter and created many great memories.


Something about racing around Cambridge in below zero temperature brings people closer!
Above: Something about racing around Cambridge in below zero temperature brings people closer!


I am glad that I got to experience comping my freshman fall, but more than anything, I am excited for what’s to come afterward!

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