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Harvard Rules

I’m going to miss this place. Almost nothing anyone told me about Harvard has been accurate. "You’ll be surrounded by attractive men who want to take you out to expensive meals and share your opinions about Proust!" "You will get on the Lampoon instantly, expending no effort!" "You will love the hot breakfasts!" "The person who lives in Natalie Portman’s old room will be easy to befriend and not think it’s weird when you come try to use her shower as a shrine!"

The only piece of good advice I received before coming here was from someone who told me to sign up for Business School studies immediately. "You can make up to $40 in under an hour!" (The website for this, incidentally, is "Then get a real job," the person added. "You can’t get job references if your only employment experience consists of pretending to be a banana-export czar in a simulated negotiation." ("But my son is pregnant!" I told my negotiation partner. "You can’t expect me to fire him!" I lost the negotiation, by which I mean that I conceded absolutely every point, but I think I gained valuable expertise.)

My own expectations were more specific. I always assumed that Harvard was a giant edifice made of red bricks and the bones of pilgrims, where my roommate would be named Quentin Compson and would leap off a bridge to his death shortly after meeting me. I was only half-right.

Still, I have very few complaints, the only big one being that the dining-hall services stopped serving scrod on a regular basis after I sent them a heart-felt letter telling them how much I enjoyed it. Sometimes I think about it and start coughing violently with emotion, usually because I am forgetting to swallow something else that I am eating at the time.


The thing that has puzzled me most in my time here is why most of the toilets lack lids, or whatever you call that thing that covers the seat. I have a private theory that whoever designed Harvard dorm furnishings had strong moral objections to people sitting down, which explains why all the chairs gang up on you whenever you try to lean back, but I don’t know why he would have wanted fecal coliforms all over everything in the restroom. Maybe he had one as a pet and got attached.

Now, on the verge of graduation, I hope that the real world is like Harvard, mostly because I really like paneling and former fireplaces that are now just confused-looking bits of wall. I also enjoy falling asleep when old, distinguished men are telling me things, and I worry that my opportunities to do this post-graduation, say with my hypothetical future father-in-law at barbecues, will be limited.

But mostly I enjoy having a wealth of academic opportunities. Not in the classroom, of course but in talking to my peers. I have a friend named Kyle who is literally a walking Oxford Classical Dictionary, which is wonderful, because I hate carrying my Oxford Classical Dictionary to Starbucks. "Critic and commentator Kenneth Dover was so impossibly prolific!" Kyle says, sometimes, before people seize him by the dust jacket and shut him with excessive force.

People always said that the best parts of Harvard were the wonderful intellectual conversations that you would have. So far, I have yet to have any of these wonderful intellectual conversations, but I take comfort in the knowledge that the people I spend most of my time making cat noises with could, if called upon, discuss Nietzsche intelligently.

And that’s the thing about Harvard. When I graduate, I know that the Harvard name will brand me regardless of what field I try to enter, possibly because I have literally branded the words "Harvard Class of 2010" on my forehead. But it will have been worth it.

People often tell me that their college years were the best years of their lives. Admittedly, some of these people live in that area outside of the Coop and spend all day sitting in one position holding a cardboard sign with grammatical errors. But if Harvard has taught me one thing, it is that you should always be polite to the people who try to instigate conversations with you at Starbucks, because you will wind up running into them a year later, and they will remember everything you told them the last time about your imaginary sister Eve who ran away to the big city with a luggage salesman.

But the best part about Harvard is not the three extremely proximate Starbucks locations, the glorious libraries, or those people in section with unclear genders. It is something more elusive: the feeling of not being the smartest person in the room. Whenever I am not at Harvard, I make a point of surrounding myself with the cast of "Jersey Shore," so this is not nearly as pretentious as it sounds. But whether it’s in the classroom, listening to someone eminent and white-haired lecture about something, or in your dorm room, discovering all the things your friends know about everything from classic rock to actual rocks, the sensation of being with people who can teach you all kinds of things is absolutely delightful. Also, the large number of places that take Crimson Cash, including but not limited to Uno’s, Boloco, and Broadway Market, which sometimes allows you to buy wine with it.

I would like to say that I regret nothing of the past four years. Actually, I do regret one thing: not having donated one of my eggs to those people who advertise in The Crimson, because, hey, that’s serious money. But then I worry that my kid would be raised by people who think it’s okay to advertise for eggs in a college newspaper.

So maybe that worked out.

Alexandra A. Petri '10 is an English concentrator in Eliot House.