I’ve heard about Harvard University since I was in elementary school and, because it was talked about it in the superlatives, I have always looked up to it with a lot of reverence. Coming from a middle class family in Cebu, I never aspired to enroll there, although it was always my wish to be able to see what “the best school in the world” looks like.
It took several decades after my graduation from college before I could visit the hallowed halls of the university. This was when I had a stable career in the airline industry and could afford to spend vacations anywhere in the world.
But, when I visited Harvard University the first time, I was part of a large tour group and it was one of the many destinations we had for the day. Needless to say, we just breezed through the campus, took pictures, and off we were to the next destination. I didn’t really get the “close look” that I was looking forward to.
Not too long ago, I had another chance to go to Boston. This time, I did a private customized tour of this Ivy League campus in Cambridge, five kilometers northwest of the capital. I made it a point to really spend time, to learn as much as I could about the university, and to have that vicarious “feel” of its student life.
Harvard University, established in 1636, is the oldest in the USA, and is named after its first benefactor, John Harvard. It is non-secular, although its early years were affiliated with the training of Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy.
Among its many sterling achievements, the university takes pride in being a modern research institution. Of course, its history, the glorious list of influential alumni and its wealth have made Harvard one of the world’s most prestigious. It was only in 1977, when it merged with Radcliffe College, that the undergraduate college became co-educational.
The university is so big that its campuses are scattered throughout Metropolitan Boston. The main campus is called Harvard Yard and is in Cambridge, while the business school, and the athletics facilities are across the Charles River in Allston. The public health schools (dental and medical) are in Longwood. I focused my tour on Harvard Yard.
Although the cost of a Harvard education is steep, the university has several “generous” financial aid packages that may be availed of by anybody. This is the reason why it prides itself with an illustrious list of alumni that have certainly helped shape the USA and the world. Based on their records, Harvard has produced eight US presidents, many foreign heads of state, 62 billionaires, and 130 Nobel Laureates.
The first thing that tourists see when they enter the campus is the bronze statue of John Harvard with a very shiny left shoe, and carved on its pedestal is “Founder, 1638.” Quite controversial, it is often called “The Statue of 3 Lies.” First, the statue is not that of John Harvard because nobody knew how he looked like, so the sculptor got a student from the early days of the school to pose for him. Second, Harvard was not the founder but the largest benefactor for the school, and, third, the school was founded in 1636 not two years later, as engraved on the pedestal.
And why is its left shoe very shiny, compared to the rest of the statue? Harvard students rub it for good luck before they take their exams, and tourists do the same, for safe travels. However, there have been many recorded instances when student-pranksters were caught urinating on and throwing excrement at the left shoe. This was the reason why I didn’t bother to pose beside the statue, much less touch the shiny left shoe.
One attraction inside the campus that awed me was the Harvard Library, the world’s largest, with 18 million volumes to offer. It is composed of 79 individual libraries and what I found very interesting was the Annenberg Hall. Its interiors were copied by the makers of the Harry Potter movies to be used as the Hogwarts School’s cavernous dining hall.
I also enjoyed going over the interesting walls of the Harvard Memorial church, which was built in 1932, to honor the 373 alumni who died in World War 1, with their names engraved on the walls of the church’s interiors.
My personal tour guide wanted to take me to many other points of interest in the university, like their classrooms, cafeterias, etc. but the day rolled by so quickly. It was almost dark and I still wanted to check out the many curio shops around the campus, to see what interesting Harvard-related items there were that I could take home with me. I ended up buying several boxes of personalized stationery with the embossed Harvard logo on them.
It was a day well spent, and I got what I wanted…from the oldest and most prestigious institution of learning in the USA. Now, my notes are complete.
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