Monday, June 04, 2012

My Harvard Commencement

I've been listening to a lot of college acapella music lately.  Maybe it's because my job search has put me in something of a nostalgic mood, especially now that I know I'll be leaving Harvard in just a few short weeks. That's right, folks- I'm happy to announce that I've accepted the position of Associate Director for Resource Sharing and Reserves at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, starting this August! This means that my days here at the World's Greatest University are numbered.

Although I am thrilled about the new job and excited about the challenges ahead of me, now when I walk across Harvard Yard on my way to Widener Library in the morning I can't help but feel bittersweet about my impending departure.  It always occurred to me that every time I swiped my ID card to enter the library there would come a time when I would no longer have the privilege of doing so, but I guess I didn't realize that that day would come sooner and not later.

Which brings me back to my recent acapella obsession.  Right now my favorite track by far is a cover of Josh Groban's "Awake" by Northwestern University's Freshman Fifteen.  Though the song is obviously about someone preparing to say goodbye to their loved one, the sentiment that the lyrics encapsulate is pretty much what I'm feeling at the moment:

And I know that only time will tell us how
To carry on without each other

So keep me awake to memorize you
Give me more time to feel this way
We can't stay like this forever
But I can have you next to me today

True story:  it took me 13 years to get my Bachelor's degree.  However much I'd like to credit this unusually long and circuitous path towards undergraduate completion to my Bluto Blutarskyesque lifestyle, it was less a function of partying hard and more a Socratic exercise in figuring out how little it was that I actually knew about myself (okay, there was some partying, a change of major or two, and a lot of acapella, but that's a completely different story!).

The white-hot intellectual fires of MIT very quickly melted away any pretense that my 18-year old self may have harbored about being an unappreciated genius;  once I had cooled down and recovered enough to make what I assumed was an informed decision concerning what course my studies should take, how could I have known that when I transferred to Boston University to study Classics I was embarking on yet another painful process of elimination, mixed in with some difficult life lessons to boot?

When I finally did leave BU with my BA, however, I felt that I had finally learned enough about myself to know what I wasn't.  So what if it took three and a quarter times longer than it should have for me to learn this lesson?  To me it was thirteen years well spent.  My parents and teachers always told me that I was stubborn- in retrospect I probably should have taken this observation to heart a lot earlier in life, but you see, I was too busy being stubborn to do so.

Therefore I find it fascinating, more than a little bit ironic, and of course totally thematically appropriate that after thirteen years of working for Harvard, I find myself leaving for a new job.  When I committed myself to Making It Happen as my New Year's resolution for 2012, I should have suspected that it would lead to my departing Harvard at long last, but for as long as I could I allowed myself the luxury of pretending that I could somehow embrace radical change without changing everything.

But change has come, and it has been radical indeed.  And just as surely as I've sloughed off upwards of sixty pounds since the beginning of the year, I seem to have wriggled free of Harvard's grasp as well.  This is the haven I chanced upon when I decided that graduate school was not for me and I found that I was at a loss as to what to do next.  This is the place where I discovered my passion for librarianship and had the good fortune to be mentored by wonderful librarians who saw my latent potential and nurtured my passion.  This is the community that helped celebrate my wedding, the birth and christening of my daughter, and many of life's other milestones along the way- big and small.

If my time as an undergraduate was about learning who I wasn't, surely my time at Harvard was about discovering who I actually was.  Even if the going here at the library has admittedly been rough of late, how could I ever dream of leaving this place?  And yet now I find myself doing just that- not out of necessity, but by choice;  not on a decision made angrily, but thoughtfully;  looking back not with bitterness or regret, but with love and gratitude for the University that took me in, the community of artists, academics, and other adventurous and/or lost souls who sustained me and inspired me, and the colleagues who helped me become the library professional I was always meant to be.

That when I finally arrived at my Socratic destination I would find that my future lay elsewhere probably should not have come as much of a surprise to me as it did (after all, in true 8-bit fashion, isn't the Princess always in another castle?).  I like to think of it as a testament to how formative an experience my time at Harvard has been that even when a great opportunity like the Yale job presented itself, I had to do some serious soul-searching before deciding even to apply for it, let alone accept it.  I'm glad that I did, of course, but I am also sad to leave behind my friends and colleagues, our patrons, and the Harvard Library itself- and Widener Library in particular.

So don't mind me if I seem to linger a little and breathe deep when I walk through the Stacks, if I slow down to listen to the never-ending beeping of the barcode scanners at the Circulation Desk, if I stop to look up and admire the brilliant view through the skylights of the Phillips Reading Room- or if you catch me flipping through the card catalogs on the third floor, marveling over the wondrous machinery down in Preservation, or standing in the Widener Memorial Room engaged in a quiet conversation with Harry.  I'm trying to soak in as much of this place as I can before I finally say goodbye.

Thank you, Harvard, for the past thirteen years.  I will always treasure our time together, but it's time for me to move on...


Barbara Gavin said...

So, no more following each other on the train?
Well, my news is that I am retiring and tomorrow is my last day.
Good luck in New Haven, from the friend you've never met.

Tom said...

Thank you, Barbara! And congratulations on your retirement. As much as I've loved living in Gloucester, I must admit that cancelling my T pass order for August was a singular pleasure.

David Osterbur said...

Very sorry to hear you are leaving - a big loss for Harvard. Congratulations on your new position and have fun, whatever you are doing.


Starrlett said...

Congrats, I hope you enjoy your new adventure!

Gretchen said...

Congratulations, Tom! I hope you are wildly happy in your new position.