Senior Looks Back as He Moves Forward

Continues to embrace lessons to be learned
Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff PhotographerPhoto by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Harvard Gazette
December 1, 2017
By Matthew DeShaw '18, Harvard Correspondent

Walking across the Yard, there is special meaning to the crunch of the brown leaves beneath my feet. The perennial sound brings to mind the Harvard student’s “cycle.”

On the brink of the next phase of this cycle, the words of Socrates come to mind: ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι — “That what I do not know, I do not think that I know.” While senior year is when I will be completing my College education, I cannot use “complete” and “education” in the same phrase. With three-plus years here flashing before me, I am in the process of making life-changing decisions.

Still wrapped in my Harvard cocoon, I am preparing to enter the final stage in the cycle, yet I am filled with more questions and a desire for further understanding. I have become acutely aware of the significance of my College years. This has been a time of excitement, a time of regret, a time of uncertainty, and most of all, a time of gratitude.

Between my classes and experiences as a Radcliffe research partner, I learn more every day and, as I start to imagine my post-graduate pass through Johnston Gate, I know it is just the beginning of my education.

When I started this journey, I was living my dream, determined to take advantage of all Harvard had to offer. That feeling has never waned. Not only have I seized each opportunity with gusto, I have done so with a grateful spirit and an inquisitive mind. Part of this process has been the preparation of my senior thesis, what I hope to be my College magnum opus, original research on a topic about which I am passionate and curious: memory and identity in Roman Morgantina. Honing my topic taught me how many topics are still left to investigate, and after my first library run, I finally understood why seniors are always lugging around stacks of books — and it’s not just to burn off that freshman 15 or build a replica of the Parthenon in their suite.

As seniors, we are told that fellowships, graduate school admissions, and job offers are not a measure of intelligence or worth. Yet I am not sure anyone truly accepts it as true. The pressure builds as the talk of applications, interviews, and superdays fills the air. I am frequently asked about my humanities joint concentration, and its place in my life and goals.

Through studying Ancient History (Greek and Roman), I have honed the skills necessary not only to succeed within the concentration, but also to prepare for post-College life. Professor Kathleen Coleman, my idol and the reason I chose my concentration, encouraged me to question history and focus on detail. While her guidance has inspired me to work harder and think critically, she undoubtedly regrets telling me to ask more questions! My thesis adviser, Emma Dench, McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History, introduced me to field study in Classics 112, which took our class to Sicily to study the ancient sites.

Finally, becoming a Radcliffe research partner under Professor Paul Kosmin has greatly expanded my research experience and historical knowledge, as well as shown me how I continue to learn in every way. Through his patience and instruction, I have grown both as a researcher and as a student.

With my lifelong obsession with history, what I have learned as a humanities concentrator seems to be a natural match for graduate school, fellowship, or firm. With the ability to think creatively, read quickly, and synthesize ideas, many doors will be open — I just need to get my foot into one of them!

So here I stand, in my final fall as a Harvard undergraduate. I know how much more there is to experience in the months ahead. But as I struggle with the decisions that will outline my next chapter, I can reflect on that Friday four years ago when I opened the email titled “Harvard Early Action Application.” I had never wanted something so much.

In this, I am reminded of my mother’s message to me on my family’s high school yearbook tribute page: “Every once in a while, life exceeds your expectations.”

Harvard has done that, and much more.

Matthew DeShaw writes an occasional column about his experiences as a member of Harvard’s Class of 2018.

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