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Yearning to Be a First-Year Again


Sophomore--from the Greek--meaning "wise fool."

All my life, I had been puzzled by this oxymoronic etymology, but had paid it little heed, (ignoring my grammar teacher, laughing off the oft-repeated high school jokes spawned by class rivalry and scorning the well-meaning [and well-paid] SAT instructors) until I, too, attained second-year status at Harvard.

Sophomore year: the year when you're officially inculcated into upperclass Harvard life and begin evincing signs of superiority, but still harbor secret (or not so secret) yearnings for relics of your first year, as evidenced by a not unsubstantial sophomore attendance at the ice cream bash, the a cappella jam, and other such Crimson Key events. And unlike the hotly contested "freshman" versus "first-year" debate last year, this sentiment is nearly ubiquitous. He who disputes this doth protest too much.

Our auspicious return to Cambridge was greeted by a parade celebrating Cambridge's longevity, which produced some longevity of its own upon Mass Ave. But that did not mar our return. Neither did the rampant road construction. Like soldiers of some long-returning army, we assiduously dragged our packages from storage one way or another, settled into our houses and marched back to the Yard, our former stomping ground. But it was not the same: the cheery red balloons waving in the Yard were not for our welcome; nary a Baybank employee tried to solicit us for the no-fee-until-you-turn-19 savings account, and even the Spare Change men seemed more restrained in their singsong efforts, as if realizing that we were poorer and less idealistic.

As we sat in the Yard, we mocked the first-years sporting '00 shirts, wondering how one could take pride in any attire proudly proclaiming one as a "zero." And we visited our old dorm rooms, imparing unwarranted advice to this year's new denizens as they stared at us with looks of amusement and/or disdain and/or both. Sometimes they mistook us for first-years, launching into the name and where you're from (in Harvard life and in real life) diatribe, but otherwise, they saw us as superfluous appendages, people who had long since passed their prime and outlived their usefulness.


As Neil Rudentstine says at convocation each year: Harvard first-years enter thinking they're stupider than their fellow classmates and leave feeling superior to all. This "wisdom" was apparant at the Freshman Fair, where students who had been gawking at the array of booths and milling around aimlessly the year before seem to have mastered the all-important skill of shoving flyers into unsuspecting first-years' hands, bookbags, and/or arms; luring them with the promise of food and friends, or fervently repeating the all-important mantra, "You know you want to join." Although the eager recruiters realize that the majority of flyers will eventually end up in the trash bin, it doesn't seem to dampen their spirit or enthusiasm one bit. Aah, such is the strength of newly gained faith.

Yet, one year older and some things never change. The other day, the lure of e-mail compelled me to trek from Mather to the Science Center. Not realizing that the Freshman Mixer had been moved indoors because of the rain, I was soon stuck in a mob of eagerly socializng first-years doing the Electric Slide. Part of me wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, but part of me remembered how fun all this had been. And that's when I realized exactly what sophomore meant.

Sophomore--from Harvard College--foolish enough to want to do it all over again, but wise enough to know that we can't.


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