This past Tuesday, I took a cursory look at my calendar for the week, and it dawned on me that my final reading period is in less than two weeks!
It feels surreal, and to be completely honest, unreal that in about a month I will be earning a college degree. When I walk across that stage at the end of May, I will become the first person in my family with a college degree. All this excitement brings with it a sense of sadness as well, for this space that I have known for four years of my life is about to become a memory. So I thought, as I reminisce and reflect, I want to memorialize the top three things that have guided me through my college experience.
1. The Space: Harvard’s First Year Retreat and Experience (FYRE)
FYRE is the one true love of my college career. A pre-orientation program for incoming first-years, FYRE provides both resources and community to first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in the cohort. I stumbled onto this organization when my Peer Advising Fellow (upperclassmen students who advise first-years) encouraged me to apply to help plan the program. I initially applied to be a member of the Steering Committee, the board that creates the program and also serves as orientation leaders. When I was rejected from SteerComm, I was crushed and the experience made me extra hesitant when considering the orientation position. But after much coaxing from my Peer Advising Fellow and friends, I decided to give it another go. My time as a team leader radically changed the trajectory of my sophomore year and beyond. But most importantly, my initial experience applying forced me to critically engage with what I thought it meant to fail. Immersing myself in FYRE pushed me to approach all of Harvard differently. My frame of thinking shifted away from being comparative to being specific to my needs and wants, and not the expectations of others. This is a lesson that I continue and will continue to learn even as my experiences with FYRE have ended.
2. The Place: Harvard’s Financial Aid Office
This one was a tight race between the Financial Aid Office and Lamont Cafe, my 2am caffeine fix when the deadlines are closing in. But in all seriousness, Harvard’s Financial Aid Office holds a special place in my heart both as a student on full financial aid and as a Financial Aid Initiative Student Coordinator in the office for the past two years. My general aid package, the Student Events Fund, the Beneficiary Aid Fund, and the aid I received from the office during the earlier parts of the pandemic gave me the means to enjoy my time both in Cambridge and the year and a half I spent back home in Colorado. I also have had the chance to speak to both current and prospective students alike on my own journey to Harvard and the role that financial aid has played in me earning my college degree. If there is one piece of advice that I could pass on to students in their college search is reach out to financial aid offices and programs like the Financial Aid Initiative! These are amazing resources staffed by people who are genuinely passionate about helping students from backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented at spaces like Harvard.
3. The Faces: The lovely humans at the Academic Resource Center
There are so many people that have made my Harvard experience unique. From my professors, to the staff, to my classmates, and friends that I now cherish so deeply, I am not embellishing when I say that this place began to feel like home once I found my people. The Academic Resource Center, and Sadé Abraham in particular, has been my port in the storm. From a tumultuous first-year, to an unorthodox (to say the least) sophomore and junior year, and a senior year full of uncertainty, my mentors and sounding boards have been what have gotten me through. Seminars on grappling with perfectionism, building healthier relationships with my work, and extricating my sense of identity and personal success from what I can produce in an academic context have been essential to my personal and professional growth. These conversations are what have been on my mind the most as I have looked back on these past four years. What has brought me the most joy in this reflective period has been these relationships that will last even beyond graduation.
These spaces, places, and faces have truly left a lasting mark on me, and as I sit here writing my final blog for the office, all I can feel is immense gratitude.