It’s summer – peak tourist season in Cambridge. Flocks of visitors, laden with maps, cameras and water bottles, trail around after Harvard student tour guides, who wear straw Panama hats with crimson bands. I get asked for directions at least twice a week.
I admit I tend to roll my eyes at tourists who stop dead in the middle of the sidewalks, but I have a little more patience for their directional queries. Navigating Harvard can be…complicated.
Harvard reminds me, in so many ways, of Oxford: a storied university set right in the middle of a bustling town, with wrought-iron fences, hidden green quads and elaborate carvings on the corners of buildings. People come to both places and say, “Where’s the university?”
The answer seems like a cop-out, but it’s the truth: “All around you.”
Nearly every spire you see in the Square – with the exception of a few churches – belongs, or once belonged, to the university. Some of the undergraduate Houses are marked by colors: blue for Lowell, jade green for Eliot, gold for Adams.
Memorial Hall (above), adjacent to Harvard Yard, invites frequent comparisons to Hogwarts, while Memorial Church’s spire reaches toward the sky, tall and white and proud. Many brick buildings around the Square – and a few modern glass-and-steel ones – are also part of Harvard.
But the heart of it all – and the place where I usually direct tourists – is the Yard.
Harvard Yard is technically two green spaces: Old Yard, surrounded by red-brick freshman dorms and featuring the statue of John Harvard, the university’s namesake; and New Yard, bordered by Memorial Church and Widener Library, the College’s main (imposing) library. In the summer, brightly colored metal chairs dot the grass in Old Yard; in the fall, the trees in both Old and New Yard are a kaleidoscope of vivid autumn leaves.
Even though my office is two blocks away, on the campus of the Graduate School of Education, I come back to the Yard over and over again.
This patch of ground is where undergraduates live during their first year at Harvard College, and the site of President Faust’s office (in Massachusetts Hall, the oldest extant building on campus). New Yard, renamed Tercentenary Theatre when the university reached that milestone, is where the Commencement exercises take place every year. Beginnings and endings, all tied up together.
I’ve loved working at the Ed School, a little removed from the bustle of the Square – but I also love walking over to the Yard, to feel a part of the life that travels through it every day. I love to sit on the steps of Memorial Church, my back against one of its wide wooden pillars, or perch on the steps of Widener Library, watching the constant traffic flow: tourists and students, faculty and parents.
The Yard makes me feel a little closer to the 379 years (and counting) of Harvard’s history. I never get tired of coming back here, feeling the pulse of history under my feet – and watching the future take shape right in front of me.
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