A Day in the Life of an HDS Student


, , , , , , , ,

What does a day in the life of an HDS student look like? Here’s the play-by-play of one Tuesday in October.

6:00am: Grad school has confirmed that I’m an early riser who needs his morning “me” time, and today is no exception. I roll out of bed, make some coffee, sit down at my kitchen table, and do some pleasure reading over my breakfast.

Prospect_Hill_Monument_-_Somerville,_MA_-_DSC03320.JPG7:00am: I head out the door into the unusually warm fall air. I live in Somerville, about a 25-minute walk from Harvard, and my apartment sits on top of Prospect Hill, which offers one of the best views of downtown Boston. Prospect Hill also sports a stone “citadel,” which marks a number of historical events, including the spot where it’s said the original American flag was first flown. I take a second to appreciate the fall foliage and the sun glinting off the city’s skyline before heading down the hill.

7:25am: I arrive at Lamont Library in Harvard Yard. Most buildings are closed this early, but Lamont is open 24 hours during the week. At this hour, the place is deserted besides the cleaning staff and a few undergrads slouched in armchairs after an all-nighter. It’s quiet and calm, the ideal place for me to get some reading done during the day’s early hours.

8:40am: I leave Lamont and head right across the Yard to Memorial Church for Morning Prayers. Morning Prayers is one of those Harvard traditions that has been going on for centuries. The service is held Monday through Saturday for 15 minutes in a small chapel in the rear of Memorial Church that includes angelic singing from the Harvard University Choir and a short address from a member of the Harvard community. I love Morning Prayers because, though there’s a general Christian spirit in the liturgy, you never know what you’re gonna get with the sermon; they run the gamut from religious to vaguely religious to not at all religious, and the speakers include those from a range of faith traditions—or none—and from all the different schools and offices across campus. Overall, it’s a pleasant balance between consistency and surprise. Today’s speaker is Professor Michelle Sanchez from the Div School, who gives a reflection on the role of habits and her church community over the past tumultuous year.

img_1640.jpg9:00am: I cross the Yard again for my Spanish class. As an MDiv, I have to complete three semesters of language. I completed two over the summer thanks to the Summer Language Program and cross registered for an advanced Spanish language and culture class being taught through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It’s a tough class, and it’s a lesson in humility to be in a classroom of undergrads who all grasp the material easier than me. This week we’re finishing up our reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold in Spanish. ¡Qué bueno!

10:00am: Two of my fellow HDS students have Arabic in the same building at same time that I have Spanish, so we meet up outside after class and stroll together over towards the Div School campus. Today, we decide to stop at Velozo’s food truck outside Div Hall, so my pal can grab one of Dean’s famous red-velvet cookies.

10:20am: I don’t have any more class today, but I have plenty of work to do. I find an open table in the lounge in Div Hall, and take out a pile of books from my backpack.

12:30pm: After two solid hours of reading, I head outside to eat lunch and enjoy the unusually warm fall weather.

1:00pm: I head to the second floor of Div Hall to the Office of Admissions where I have a work study job as an office assistant. I really enjoy the convenience of working on campus and enjoy getting to know people I wouldn’t otherwise see. We’re gearing up for Diversity and Explorations and Theological Education Day in November, so it’s a busy day in the office.

Overall, it’s a pleasant balance between consistency and surprise.

4:00pm: I walk from Divinity Hall to Andover Hall for Community Tea, a weekly HDS tradition when the whole community comes together to share relax and socialize over food. I stuff my face with falafel, beef skewers and rice (rule #8 of grad school life: if there’s free food, I must eat as much as possible), and catch up with a group of fellow first years.

5:00pm: I backtrack to Divinity Hall and walk up to Divinity Chapel for Hear and Now. Hear and Now groups are small, interreligious support groups that meet weekly throughout the academic year. They’re less about growing in your particular faith tradition and more about sharing your story and spiritual growth and listening to your peers. I’ve grown quite close to the other two members of my group and I cherish our weekly meetings. Today, we spend half of the hour checking-in and for the other half another students leads us in the some very basic meditation.

6:00pm: I still have plenty of work tonight, so I stroll over the Harvard-Andover Library, where I end up for a few hours most days to study. I’ve come to love the odd leather and wood, reclining chairs on the second floor, and post up there. Dinner is yesterday’s pasta eaten discretely from a Tupperware. Leftovers have also become an integral part of my grad school life.

Unknown.jpeg9:00pm: The flip side of being an early riser is that my brain stops functioning at about 8:00pm. I struggle on for an hour longer, but eventually close the books for the night. I run into one of my classmates on the way out who also lives in Somerville, and we stroll home together. I end up idling on the sidewalk outside his apartment so we can finish our debate about our readings from Introduction to Ministry Studies. We both geek out over Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

9:45pm: Home sweet home. My roommate is watching The X-Files. (He’s currently working his way through all nine seasons—it’s been an interesting few weeks.) To reward myself for a productive day, I plop myself on the couch for the remainder of the episode.

10:45: After looking over my schedule tomorrow and making the next day’s lunch, I lay down in bed to do some pleasure reading before turning in. But I barely make it three pages before my head is already nodding. I toss the book aside, flip out the light, and quickly fall asleep.

Looking Back: An Unsettling Disorientation


, , , , , , , , ,

IMG_4384It is the first day of orientation at Harvard Divinity School. I am sitting under this little canopy at one of those generic plastic pop-up tables drinking free coffee and eating a free bagel. (Even before you hear about religious pluralism and the commitment to social change and the historic
function of the Divinity School as a site of training learned ministers, you learn that HDS is going to give you free food. Lots of it.) But then you do start learning about that other stuff, and it begins with the people whom you encounter. My new classmates – these previously unaccounted for entities with whom I will be spending the next two years – start sitting down next to me.

That’s just the way it is here. It turns out that what all the ‘prospective student’ brochures told us was actually true: no two people are interested in the same thing, and HDS is a place where we not only embrace that diversity but actively encourage everyone to go wild with their education and make it their own.

First there’s someone who’s Jewish but wants to study Hinduism. Next is an ordained Buddhist minister who grew up in an evangelical Christian context. A self-avowed atheist humanist who’s pursuing a Master of Divinity (a degree that, until quite recently, was offered only to those pursuing Christian ministry). A secularist who identifies as ‘spiritual but not religious’ and wants to pursue interfaith chaplaincy. A Muslim who’s interested in the complexities of Islamic scholarship in a western academic context. A wholly nonreligious person who’s interested in the ways that methodologies in religious studies can be brought to bear upon the study of literature. The list goes on. That’s just the way it is here. It turns out that what all the “prospective student” brochures told us was actually true: no two people are interested in the same thing, and HDS is a place where we not only embrace that diversity but actively encourage everyone to go wild with their education and make it their own.

At this particular moment, the only thing that unites us is that we’ve made it, and now that we’re finally here, we’re all totally freaking out. There’s not one among us who wasn’t, by around mid-March, compulsively refreshing their emails to see if we had gotten in. We went through the ecstasy of receiving our admissions letters, the discernment of whether to accept, the ordeal of finding an apartment in the area, and the bittersweet task of leaving behind wherever it was we were coming from. Now we’re all sitting around these little pop-up plastic tables, drinking our free coffee, meeting each other for the first time, and each and every one of us has this look on our faces that says: “Oh crap. I’m actually at Harvard.”

The promise of HDS is located in precisely this unsettling disorientation, this project of continually asking us to discover and re-discover who we are and what we want to do.

Of course, this doesn’t last too long. Orientation has to start, and we begin to channel that rush of nervous energy into actually doing stuff. There are speakers, degree panels, breakout sessions. We meet our advisers and start selecting our classes. Some of us have existential crises and possibly a minor breakdown about what it is that we’re actually studying here [cough, me, cough]. But slowly, gently, we begin to glimpse a vision of ourselves as students at HDS, and we like what we see, so we keep going. Step by step.

At the time of this writing, it’s been a month since orientation. I’m going over some of my notes I took during one of the sundry information sessions, and one line in particular stands out to me. I was sitting in a session facilitated by Dudley Rose,professor, coordinator of the M.Div. program here, and local legend. In speaking of some of the elements of HDS’s degree requirements, he cracked a wry smile and said, “Sometimes we want this to be a sort of unsettling disorientation for you.” An unsettling disorientation. Nice. I couldn’t help but think that, in fact, that’s exactly what we were all going through at just that moment. The whole irony in calling those first few days our “Orientation” is that they weren’t really orienting us in any particular direction at all. HDS, we are coming to learn, wants to give us the boat and the paddle and some sketched maps, send us out into the vast oceans of religious scholarship and ministry, and say: “find your own way.”

That’s why HDS is awesome. The promise of HDS is located in precisely this unsettling disorientation, this project of continually asking us to discover and re-discover who we are and what we want to do. Over and over, I hear my fellow students saying the same thing: “I came here expecting to do one thing, but now that I’m here, I’m realizing that actually what I want to do is….” That’s okay. That’s actually what we came here for. You don’t come to a non-religiously affiliated, multifaith, endlessly diverse divinity school because you’re looking to learn more of the same. You come here because you know, perhaps in some pre-rational intuitive kind of way, that you’ll encounter difference here, and that difference will have something to teach you. Orientation, it turns out, is the first step on a disorienting, uncertain, and (for that reason) revelatory path that’s taking us directions we’d never thought we’d go, and transforming us into people we never knew we could become.

Singing a Song of Joy with Notes from HDS


, , , , , , , , , , ,

courtyard-031aAt HDS, we understand faith to mean engagement with the future. From the first day of classes, HDS has drilled one question into my soul: how can my lifetime offer something to the future? How can reading this book, writing this paper, learning this ancient language, and taking on this field education placement offer something to the future? How can encounters with suffering and possibility offer something to the future? Here’s a little story.

Exactly a year ago, I received an email from one of my little brothers of choice. His twin sister had just died after a long battle against a complex medical condition. She was 26. The news of her passing was my first encounter with a peculiar kind of suffering: the oceanic, inexplicable, unspeakable kind that just does not make sense. She was too young, too loving, too special. Their dad kept repeating: “No, she’s not dead. My daughter is not dead.”

It didn’t help that I was in the throes of my own transition to HDS. The insights we kept unearthing from reflecting and writing about learned ministry and many faces of religious experience were beginning to shake my core. HDS’s safe and diverse community of learning and transformation had already ushered me into the humbling and undeniable limits of what I can comprehend or change. Here was yet another encounter that beckoned me to humility.

I did not have a plan. I had no idea what to say to my little brother. What I did know was what I did not want to say: platitudes. “Things happen for a reason.” Yeah, right. That clearly helps when you don’t know why something has happened to you or someone you love, or how you are going to be the new person your new circumstances are challenging you to become. Here’s another one: “Better days are to come.” Uh huh? That clearly helps when someone feels they are drowning in the 12-foot end of the pool, and there is no one around. Thank you, but no thank you. I’ll take some calming silence instead.

My little brother had told me to ring him an hour after our Theories & Methods class—a required course for all M.Div. and MTS students. Theories & Methods introduced me to a professor whose generosity of heart has sustained me at HDS: Charles Hallisey. I went up to him after lecture to seek his counsel regarding my anxieties about the dreaded phone call.

“I don’t know what to say to him. And I don’t want to whip out the usual, useless platitudes,” I said.

“That’s precisely where you’ll find your voice,” he said. “In that silence. In that inability to say anything.”

“So, I’m supposed to tell him that I don’t know what to say?”


That was not exactly the counsel I had expected to receive. I still had no plan. The clock kept ticking. Ten minutes before I had to call, I sat on a bench outside the Law School Library to reflect and pray. I prayed to make peace with saying to someone I love that I did not know what to say.

My prayer was fairly orderly and coherent at the beginning:

“Lord, please use my voice to radiate some light and warmth in this dark time.”

As the time drew near, my prayer came down to fewer and fewer words until only one word came to mind:

“Please. Please. Please. Pretty please, Lord. Have mercy. Please. Please. Please.”

I took a deep breath. I called. I heard his voice. And I began to utter the words I had dreaded: “I am so sorry. I don’t know what to say. And I’m here. You can yell. You can hang up. You can weep. You can do whatever you want. I’m sorry, and I’m here.”

My heart rate slowed down. Being true-true—no matter how incompetent it made me feel—was easier than I had thought. Next thing I knew, we had been talking for 45 minutes.

I cherish the memory of that phone call. What makes its memory worth cherishing is not just Professor Hallisey’s intentional and gentle challenge. He had sent me away with a religious question, a very HDS question: how can acknowledging that I do not know what to say offer something to the future? It’s also what the phone call became: a song of joy.

The wound was too fresh, the grief too acute to ignore, dismiss, or wish away.

And yet.

And yet, neither of us could take our eyes off the future we share.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” my little brother said.

He is not wrong.

He and I are where we are thanks to sisters like his and many others who had embraced and unleashed us back when we were still buried deep inside the closet. He and I are who we are thanks to sisters like his and many others who chose to have faith in the stories they saw in us.

Our time with his sister was over. Our story wasn’t. We renewed our commitment to keep writing it. Yes, things can and will inevitably fall apart along the way. And yes, we can and must pick up the pieces for the future—intentionally and joyfully. We owe it to the audacity of our sisters. We owe it to the future. Many more notes of joy filled the song my little brother and I sang in that dark hour.

I do not know what seasons of struggles and moments of glory await as my second year at HDS starts. And I am prepared. HDS has impressed upon my soul the disciplined practice of transforming each and every paragraph of my story into an offering for our future. That is our story. That is our song. Please join us in singing it with humble notes of intense joy.

Getting to Know HDS: New Friends and In-Between Spaces


, , , , , , ,

Recently, as a graduate assistant in the Office of Admissions, I was fielding questions in a virtual chatroom from prospective HDS applicants. Most of the questions were the typical ones you’d expect: What degrees are offered at HDS? Is HDS affiliated with a particular denomination? How does financial aid work? Some were a little more specific: What’s field education and why is it required for all MDivs? Can you tell me more about the Boston Theological Institute? What’s campus life like at HDS?

But there was one question I hadn’t been expecting: Keith, could you tell us what you like the most about HDS?

For context, I am a first year MDiv, this was only my second week of class, and my time at HDS thus far had been a blur. My days consisted of rushing out the door each day for morning prayer at Memorial Church, followed by an advanced Spanish course I was cross-registered in at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and then off to my other classes on Religious Pluralism or Ministry Studies or Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, followed by discussion sections, my Hear and Now interfaith group, late nights in the comfy chairs on the second floor of Andover-Harvard Library chipping away at my mountain of reading, and finally my bike ride home, where I would collapse in an exhausted, but happy, heap on my bed, wake up the next morning, and do it all over again.

I loved my classes, the worship services, my readings—all of it. But I hadn’t had much time yet to process it all. And upon reflection I realized that my favorite part of HDS thus far was the in-between time, the few gaps in my schedule, because it was during those times that I had started to build friendships with my classmates. During a break, I’d mosey outside to the quad, inevitably bump into someone, and strike up a conversation: about Boston, or our classes, or specific readings. Just the night before, I had ended up sitting in the grass with two classmates completely geeking out over some obscure philosophy text.  On another occasion, a conversation about various Christian practices led to a group of us attending a local church service that weekend.

My classmates fascinate me. They come from all walks of life, from all over the US and the world, from an array of religious traditions, all with deep-seated convictions. From them I’ve already learned about Zen Buddhist monasticism, interpretative approaches to Nietzsche, Latin American Liberation Theology, and Greek Orthodox contemplative practices, not to mention the best bars in the Cambridge, books that change lives, and life hacks for poor graduate students (tip #1: shop at market basket). I’ve quickly realized that though HDS offers leading scholars, top-notch academics, unimaginable opportunities, and access to University-wide resources, its greatest resource may be the students who study here. I look forward to learning from as many as I can, one impromptu conversation at a time.

Student Spotlight: MTS ’17 Jim Hackett on business, faith, and education


, , , , , , ,

This week, the HDS Office of Admissions caught up with one of our MTS students, Jim Hackett. Known for both his business acumen and for his cheerful and friendly disposition around campus, Jim participated in the Special Students program and is now an incoming MTS student. Below, he shares his reflections on what his HDS experience has meant to him so far.

HDS Office of Admissions (HDS): Can you tell us a little about your background? You’ve been in the workforce for a number of years–how have you spent your pre-HDS years?

Jim Hackett (JH): I was fortunate to be able to spend my career in business, leading several large global enterprises in the energy field. …I taught as an Adjunct Professor at Rice University’s graduate school of business, which re-kindled a continuing interest in teaching.  I suspect, any good person who leads others becomes a teacher, no matter what profession they pursue. 

“While HDS is rigorous, it is also a special place for reflection, learning, and improving as an individual and a group.”

(HDS): What brought you to HDS? Did you ever anticipate that you would pursue a degree in theological study?

(JH): Since the Air Force Academy, I have had a strong interest in studying comparative theology, but only as an amateur. What brought me to HDS (and formal theological training) were primarily two events–the failure of a major corporation managed by Midwestern Christians like me (i.e. Enron Corp) and the comments from a successful business man at a Harvard reunion: he told me that he read the Bible every day…but didn’t believe in God.  It then struck me that more research and teaching needed to be conducted about integrating spiritual and intellectual values within secular professions.
My mission is to change how we discuss and pursue spiritual values, not just secular ethics. HDS has helped me in many ways in that regard, including with my plans to write a book on faith and leadership and to teach undergraduates at the University of Texas about religion, spirituality, and ethics.
Former CEO and current MTS student at Harvard Divinity School, Jim Hackett. Photo by Bloomberg.

Former CEO and current MTS student at Harvard Divinity School, Jim Hackett. Photo by Bloomberg.

Continue reading

From the Navy to DivEx to the HDS Office of Admissions: Meet David Waters, our new graduate assistant!


, , , , ,

David Waters, newest graduate assistant for the HDS Office of Admissions, has quite the resume. From his time in the Navy to his participation in our Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx), David ultimately chose to attend HDS to study the intersection of religion, literature, and culture. David looks forward to talking with prospective students about the DivEx program and about life at HDS!

David Waters, new graduate assistant for the HDS Office of Admissions. Photo by Elias Igue

David Waters, new graduate assistant for the HDS Office of Admissions. Photo by Elias Igue

Continue reading

Summer in the City: Reflecting Back on Boston’s Snowiest Winter


, , ,

Some people might celebrate Christmas in July, but here at Harvard we remember last December just a little too well.

After enduring Boston’s snowiest winter in recorded history, even hot and humid July seems like a gift. Around Harvard Divinity School’s campus, students, faculty, and staff alike can be heard giving thanks for summer–even when summer brings 90 degree weather.

Campus pathway transformed by snow. Photos by Caroline Matas

Campus pathway transformed by snow. Photos by Caroline Matas

Winter and summer entrance into Harvard Yard. Photos by Caroline Matas

Winter and summer entrance into Harvard Yard. Photos by Caroline Matas

Snow buries a bench outside of Divinity Hall. Photos by Caroline Matas

Snow buries a bench outside of Divinity Hall. Photos by Caroline Matas

By the time next winter comes around, we are sure we will be excited to don our winter gear and play in the snow. Until then, though, we’ll take all the sunshine we can get.

Goethe and German Pretzels: A Snapshot of the HDS Summer Language Program


, , , ,

“By the end of this week, I’ll have you translating Goethe.”

This was the promise my professor made to our class on the first day of the HDS Summer Language Program. We looked back at her, incredulous.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Every year I say this to my students, and they think I’ve gone off the deep end, but by the end of the week you’ll see that I’m right. The transformation that you’ll experience in this next eight weeks will shock you.”

Continue reading

Harvard Eats: Velozo’s Food Truck


, , , , , , , ,

In cities across the country, food trucks have become a favorite way to dine on the go, and Harvard has been only too happy to hop on board. Every day, the Harvard Science Center Plaza hosts a selection of food trucks offering fresh, delicious lunch and dinner options.

However, just down the street from the Yard is a hidden Harvard gem worthy of the classic boast, “Before it was cool.”

Velozo's food truck on Divinity Ave. Photo by Caroline Matas

Velozo’s food truck on Divinity Ave. Photo by Caroline Matas

Velozo’s food truck is a family business that has served breakfast and lunch to the Harvard community since 1960. Every day, rain or shine, Dean Velozo is standing by with homemade bagels, soups, sandwiches, cookies, and a rotating cast of Italian entrees.

The best part? Velozo’s food truck is located right on Divinity Avenue.

Dean Velozo shows off today's batch of chocolate chunk cookies. Photo by Caroline Matas

Dean Velozo shows off today’s batch of chocolate chunk cookies. Photo by Caroline Matas

The HDS community have long been proud patrons of Velozo’s. Here in the Office of Admissions, we have been known to begin heated debates about which Velozo’s cookie is our favorite: could it be the red velvet, or maybe the s’more? Or perhaps the double chocolate chip? We’ve even had one brave-but-deluded coworker argue in favor of the oatmeal raisin. Despite our flavor debates, however, we all agree that Velozo’s has the best cookies we’ve ever tasted.

Tantalizing row of cookies at Velozo's food truck. Photo by Caroline Matas

Tantalizing row of cookies at Velozo’s food truck. Photo by Caroline Matas

But don’t take our word for it: plan a visit to Cambridge and try Velozo’s delicious fare for yourself.

Learn more about Harvard Common Spaces here.

Summer in the City: Campus Volleyball


, , , , ,

Did you know that there’s a sand volleyball court behind Divinity Hall? Whether you decide to form a league with your classmates or simply use the court at your leisure with friends, nothing says “summer” quite like playing in the sand.

Students play a pick-up volleyball game behind Divinity Hall. Photo by Caroline Matas

Students play a pick-up volleyball game behind Divinity Hall. Photo by Caroline Matas

Stay tuned for more snapshots of summer at Harvard!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers