What would Harvard for a day be like?

Today was one of those day where excitement and opportunity seemed just around the corner from me.  I don’t know what it was exactly that made today this way.  Maybe it’s the beautiful weather.  Maybe it’s that a terrible sick leave forced me to take a day off work and just relax in the work I am doing (to avoid another spell).  Ironically enough, relaxation allows one to work better and have more creativity and job enjoyment – who knew?

Awaiting me this opportunistic morning was an exciting email from a friend of mine who works for Harvard.  She was telling me of her wonderful adventures helping host Carlo Petrini, an Italian who started the Slow Food movement.  Briefly put, the Slow Food movement is a movement to start building local, sustainable culture for the betterment of people and society.  Petrini was in town giving a lecture at Harvard, so my friend was along for the ride.  In what is perhaps a fortuitous moment, my friend was recruited to escort Petrini to the local Starbucks for an espresso.  Imagine that – taking a real Italian foodie to get espresso at Starbucks!  But my friend, with her cultured and interesting ways, discovered that they both speak French (Petrini speaks no English so communication was sparse if non-existent prior to this point).  A little bit of French conversation and a Starbucks espresso later and my friend had just had a memorable encounter with an international celebrity of sorts.

 

Needing more information about Petrini’s U.S. university tour, I went to read an article discussing the details of the kick-off of his tour.  It was so exciting to see the big things that are happening on campuses like Harvard to help push forward the Slow Food movement.  But I was disappointed to see phrases like “Carlo Petrini kicked off yesterday at Tufts and Harvard, Boston’s two most important universities.”  When I checked the final line-up, it became clear to me that the only universities who would be graced by Petrini’s presence were some of the top Ivy league schools in the nation (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.).  I can’t say I blame Petrini.  If I came all the way from Italy, I’d probably hit up the nation’s top schools as well.  But in some ways I began to feel (although to a MUCH lesser degree) like those students in the documentary Waiting for “Superman.” Why are the Ivy league schools the most important universities?  Are other universities less valuable because they may not contain the best and brightest?  But perhaps this is the simple truth.  As I ruminated on this question, the excitement and opportunity of my morning began to fade.

I started to wonder, what would it be like to go to Harvard for a day?  What sorts of interesting, impactful people would I hear talk or run into?  What big, important movements might I be able to jump into?  And then I wondered, would the work I produce and the things I was involved in be qualitatively different if I went to a university like Harvard?  In some ways they would have to be which may be precisely the point.  I am not at Harvard.  I may not the best and brightest.  But am I capable of changing the world and discovering ground-breaking ideas apart from this?

The real truth is that a genius is a genius is a genius.  But I do believe one’e environment has something to do with how much potential a person achieves.  I am by no means saying I am that genius, but I have many friends who could meet that criteria.  Would they become something even greater if they were in an environment that was more forward-thinking and if they were surrounded by other geniuses?  I wonder.  The bottom line is the most resources go to those at the top, who keep climbing.  And the ones at the bottom get the fewest resources and keep dropping.  I am fortunate to be in the middle, so I have many opportunities afforded to me.  But I wonder how many lost talents are out there simply due to a lack of resources.  It’s an interesting game to play.  What would Harvard be like for a day?  A week? A year?  An education?  I guess I will never truly know.  Either way, I’m still choosing to be excited about the opportunities that can arise here.  Perhaps that’s what real geniuses do – create and discover no matter what environment they are in.  Either way, I would still love to hear Petrini’s talk.

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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