"하버드에서 사람을 배웠습니다. 앞으로도 확실한 건 우리 자신의 일에 집중하는 만큼 다른 사람과의 관계도 쌓아가고 그들의 목소리를 들으며 나아갈 것입니다."
하버드대 제365회 졸업식을 앞두고 학부모와 재학생들을 초청하는 졸업기념 행사일(Class Day)에 연사로 오른 졸업생 4명중 한 명이 한인이라 눈길을 끈다. 한인으론 처음 졸업기념식 연설대에 오른 그는 박민우(22·사진)씨.
그는 미주중앙일보 학생기자 1기 출신인 그는 이날 '인간 관계의 중요성'을 강조한 연설로 박수를 받았다.
이날 박씨가 오른 연설대는 하버드대 졸업생중 단 4명에게만 주어지는 자리다. 80여명의 도전자를 제치고 선발된 박씨는 "하버드에서 지낸 시간을 알리고 메시지를 전달하고 싶었는데 그 꿈이 실현돼 기뻤다"고 소감을 밝혔다.
아시안 학생이 많았던 고등학교와 달리 대학에 들어간 후 소수계 학생으로서의 문화 차이도 경험하면서 많이 배웠다는 박씨는 "하버드에서 경험한 건 나보다 뛰어난 학생들이 항상 겸손했고 사람들에게 열린 마음을 갖고 있는 점"이라며 "지난 4년은 사람이 중요하다는 걸 배운 시간이었다. 나 역시도 사람을 사랑하고 열린 귀와 마음을 갖고 겸손하게 살아갈 것"이라고 덧붙였다.
졸업식을 끝내고 집에 돌아와 모처럼 푹 잠을 자고 있다는 박씨는 올 여름부터 할리우드의 대형 엔터테인먼트 에이전시인 '크리에이티브아티스트'에서 인턴으로 근무할 예정이다.
I have a pet squirrel. And he lives in my head.
And every time I try to start that 12-page midterm paper due in a week, that little squirrel climbs out of the depths of my mind and whispers, “Relax. 1 week? That’s basically an eon. Go get some Kong, hang out with your blockmates, you haven’t seen them in days.” Two days left until that paper is due, and just as I’m about to pull out the old Microsoft Word, that little squirrel comes out with a cheeky smile on its face and whispers, “You got time, don’t worry. Yes, you can workout at the gym for the first time this entire semester And why yes, you can spend four hours there catching up with all your gym buddies whom you never see at the gym because you never go to the gym.” By this point in my failed endeavors to start writing, I’ve grown rather fond of this little pet squirrel inside of my head. I even named him: Bubbles. Then in the blink of an eye, I’ve got 24 hours to finish 12 pages on the Rise of Socialism in late 19th century Poland. I’m freaking out. But you know the drill. Maybe Bubbles?my optimistic pet squirrel who’s caused all of this anxiety and stress?maybe he has something encouraging to say? Right Bubbles? Bubbles? Where are you Bubbles?
We all procrastinate, right. Procrastination is as vital to the Harvard student’s life as water is to fish or as lotteries are to Harvard classes.
Why do we all procrastinate? According to highly reputable news source Buzzfeed.com, we procrastinate because we want to escape the traumatic pain that comes with the task that we are supposed to be doing. All you thesis survivors, it’s okay. Your thesis won’t find you here.
When I was a freshman, the upperclassmen I knew would always tell me, “Focus on the people here.” Apparently, if there was one thing they regretted doing, it was spending too much time grinding away at psets and not enough time hanging out with friends. So, I took their advice to heart. I shouldn't spend time on psets? Fine with me. I’ll be an English major. No psets ever… except for SPU. So, after a turbulent freshman year in which I juggled school, sports, and a series of first world existential crises, I “found” myself sophomore year when I decided I wanted to become a people person. Now for context, in high school I was introverted and reserved, so much so that I only said hi to people if they said hi to me first. So when I decided to become this people person, it was pretty nerve-racking. Because to be a people person, well, you need people. But people are weird, and I’m pretty weird, and I didn’t know if other people’s kind of weird wanted to hang out with my kind of weird.
But it turns out, you all are friendly. And soon enough, as I began choosing to hang out with my friends rather than study, the term people person became a euphemism for professional procrastinator. In the last 3 years of Harvard, I’ve spent entire days forgoing my personal work only to give in to the sweet temptation of hanging out with the people around me. I remember multiple occasions just freestyling with my buddy Stephen until 3AM in the morning. Which is saying a lot, because I’m not a very good rapper. People, I like to say, are my fifth class. Which is also saying a lot, because I would never consider taking five actual classes at Harvard.
I’d move from one conversation in a d-hall to another in a common room, mesmerized by my peers’ talks of their past travels, their current research proposals, and their determined dreams to change the world. In one particular conversation, Pat, a good friend of mine, told me that he wanted to use statistics to change the world and that his dream is to someday positively affect 1 billion people. And sure enough, this past winter break Pat got started on that dream when, in the wake of Nepal’s catastrophic earthquakes, he and his roommate decided to travel to Nepal to conduct data-based research to improve disaster relief efforts. Exchanges like this both fascinated me and left me in awe. Sure, at the end of these conversation-filled days, I would find myself back at my desk in my room having started none of the assignments or readings due the next morning. But I’d feel incredibly rich and satisfied because I had learned so much about the lives of those around me, as if you all were one big storybook come alive.
And guess what? Professionally procrastinating my way through college must have paid off somehow. I am one of the few English concentrators to come out of our department with a job. And by job, I actually mean internship. And by internship, I actually mean 2 months of shredding paper, getting coffee, and sharpening pencils?all the things my English degree prepared me for.
But being a professional procrastinator isn’t always just fun and games. Though I would spend entire afternoons or evenings talking with the brightest, funniest, most insightful people I have the blessed opportunity to call classmates, at the same time, I’d ironically feel like a shell of a person, as if I lacked an essence that made me me, like there was no substance to who I was. In my efforts to be more sociable, I realized what was really scary was not the prospect of being rejected by people. What was really scary was feeling alone and incompetent even while being around people I considered friends. After 45 minutes of delightful dialogue, it would be my peers who had to check their watches and head off to a class or a meeting or the library. And I felt like it was my peers, not me, who were diligent and focused enough to finish their work, take school seriously, and make an impact in this world.
I think we all have felt that way, one time or another. Empty, somehow worth less because of just how amazing our fellow classmates can be. There is this unspoken self-consciousness that pervades, this unintentional belittling of ourselves that we are not as mature or as accomplished as we thought we would end up being after 4 years here at Harvard. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of us have wondered, even if for just a moment, “Am I Harvard’s Admission Mistake?” I know I’ve worried about that.
And yet, as I stand here today re-examining how I used every moment of my precious time here at Harvard, I don’t regret a thing. I might not be the most impressive student here, with the best GPA or the most stunning accolades. But what I do have is a collection of experiences derived simply from talking with other people. And I think that’s what Harvard is about. If more time “procrastinating” means that you had an intense heart to heart with your 2 other roommates, maybe that inefficient cramming later on was worth it. I am more driven now to do something, to be someone, to change the world, to leave an impact, than I’ve ever been before precisely because of how I have been shaped and fueled by all of your stories.
Whatever pathways we embark on, one thing is for sure. We will always face tradeoffs trying to find the perfect balance between focusing on our own work and engaging with other people. At these crossroads, there will be a voice inside of our heads. Whether that voice manifests itself as your conscience or in the form of an optimistic pet squirrel is not the point. What matters is that we listen to that voice and that we take the time to consider the unexpected values we might learn from our conversations with others.
To the Graduating Class of 2016… I have a pet squirrel, and he lives in my head. And I hope he continues to live there for a long, long time.