Well, it’s been almost two weeks since I watched my friends graduate at the Harvard Class of 2016 commencement ceremony. Now that things have slowed down, I guess it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past four years. (But I’ll keep it short for both my sake and yours. I don’t think I’ve written anything since my expository writing class freshman year...)
I feel like I’ve covered a crazy amount in the 25 classes I’ve taken. I've implemented a Bloom Filter and proved that Dijkstra’s algorithm runs in O(E + V log V) time. I’ve analyzed symphonies and composed for an 11-part jazz band. I even learned a few phrases of Japanese. Doing all of this cool stuff is the reason people go to Harvard, right?
Attending classes is only a minuscule part of the learning experience at Harvard. It took me four years to appreciate it, but I now realize that the most important lessons are taught outside of lecture. Whether it’s talking to a professor over dinner, chatting with a teaching fellow at office hours, or chilling with peers in the dining hall, there's always an opportunity to learn from someone smarter than I am.
Perhaps the most important lesson that Harvard has taught me is to take these opportunities. Even if that means walking all the way to the quad. Or staying up a past my bedtime. Or even giving up a precious hour of studying the night before a final. You never know how life lessons will manifest, and they are worth much much more than a few points that an extra hour of studying will have gotten you (if any at all. *cough* CS124 *cough*).
Another lesson I learned was to stop trying to compare myself against others. In environments as competitive and cutthroat as elite colleges are, it’s easy to get caught up in the competition. But that’s a recipe for failure. By definition, there can only be one “best.” And it sure ain’t me. I’m sure we’ve all been in the position where we’re a little overconfident in a “fact” we hold to be true, only to be corrected by a nearby acquaintance (who happens to be an expert on the topic). It’s embarrassing! Instead, teach what you know and learn what you don’t. Having a friend better than you at something isn’t a bad thing, rather it means you have an accessible teacher!
Which brings me to my third (and last?) lesson. Teach! I’ve had the opportunity to be a teaching fellow for 3 classes so far (1 computer science and 2 related to digital media and photography), and I would never have guessed how much I'd learn about the subjects as a teacher. It’s astounding! So yeah, teach every chance you get; even if it’s just helping a friend with homework. You gain a deeper understanding of the material, and it’s rewarding to watch people progress. Oh, and you’re bound to meet some cool peeps along the way. I’ll close this section with an email from a student of mine:
Just wanted to let you know I was very impressed by your pset 8; it's awesome to see how much you've progressed since the beginning of the class!
Thank you so much for this! I got this email while I was online for the Harvard -Yale game, and I read it outloud and all of my friends audibly went "awww".
Thank you so much for this, this really meant alot to me --- and for the record there's a reason I've progressed so much.
It's because I had a really great TF.
Gets me every time.
So I guess those are the top three lessons that Harvard has taught me so far. I’ll probably take another semester off to keep working, but I’m excited to reenroll and continue learning!
I guess text on a page is boring, so here are a couple "graduation" pictures:
- Most learning is done outside of class; go out and learn, even if it takes a little work on your part.
- Don’t get caught up by comparing yourself to others. Learn from those with more knowledge.
- Teach every chance you get. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the material, and get to watch people learn.
’Til next time!