Walking to the first day of Orientation at HDS last year, it was raining and I had missed the turn I was supposed to take to get to campus. On top of being mildly lost, I was mentally preparing myself for the possibility of awkward ice breakers (which are the worst) and a week of feeling overwhelmed by too many extroverts trying to make conversation at new student mixers when all I would want to do is hang out near a wall—preferably by the food. My rain boots padded along the sidewalk as I looked around the unfamiliar streets hoping to successfully retrace my steps back to where I was supposed to be. Fortunately, this isn’t a metaphor for life at HDS: I haven’t spent the last year lost and confused as I tried to navigate my way through academia and discerning my future vocation.
Instead I have found HDS to be a welcoming and supportive environment. I have found engaging academic coursework that has helped shape my perspective on theology and religious studies in new and exciting ways. I have found professional opportunities that have pushed me to explore my vocation and some new ways that I can use my gifts and talents in a professional capacity after I graduate. And most importantly, I have found an incredible community of some of the most intelligent, engaged, and interesting people I have had the privilege to know.
So I was very excited to help welcome new students to campus this year. As an Orientation Assistant, I had the pleasure of working with the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Tim Whelsky and my fellow MDiv candidate Isabelle Jenkins, along with the staff and faculty at HDS. We prepared a program to help students feel comfortable here, communicated with them throughout the summer, hosted a pizza party where people could get to know each other, and spent hours putting together the Orientation Book, a resource for students to learn more about one another and the different faces and offices around HDS. As silly as it may sound, I looked forward to Tuesday mornings when I could go back to work (and full disclosure: take a “break” from studying for the Summer Language Program). Working on Orientation this past summer was a way for me to share some of the many reasons why I love HDS.
I vividly remember last summer, feeling more than a little bit anxious about how well (or how badly) I would re-adjust to academia after working for a few years. I remember having to sneakily look up the meaning of theological jargon that professors were using in class, just to make sure it really meant what I thought it did. And I remember feeling like there was no way that I was ever going to be able to read the mountain of books that loomed before me after I had gotten everything on my syllabi. But it all worked out.
So I want to share with you what I have learned over the last year: that I didn’t need to learn or become anything to come to HDS. I was already welcome here. The staff and students put a lot of intention into making sure everyone feels comfortable here. Sure there are some things that I needed to learn, like what “Harvard time” meant and that there was actually a much shorter way for me to walk to school than the one I took that first day in the rain. But everything else—the classes and making new friends and whether or not my spiritual needs would be met at HDS—that tended to work itself out when I was authentic about who I was and remained open to what may have been different or unfamiliar. One of the best gifts I hope to offer new students is the comfort and reassurance that they are truly welcome here. Likewise, you are welcome here. There are a lot of people here, including students, faculty, and staff, who look forward to meeting you and want you to feel comfortable here.