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It’s Just a Name – Don’t Sweat It


Tuesday, July 10, 2018, by Seanne Clemente
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     “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
     Romeo and Juliet
(2.2.46–47)

     You’ve probably heard it before, haven’t you? This timeless quote from a timeless tragedy written by a timeless author. Perhaps you have a faint recollection of an English teacher from high school. Do you flash back to said teacher making sense of what exactly Juliet meant when she said this to Romeo from her balcony? Or maybe you were more tech-savvy than you were a good listener, and you instead remember a quick Google search and a redirect to sparknotes.com’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ page. (I’m not judging.) Whichever way you learned the meaning of this line, it is likely that it you were given some variation of the same answer. That the name of something has no bearing on what that something actually is. At least, that’s one interpretation. 

     Don’t worry. I don’t intend to dedicate this blog post to dissecting Shakespeare’s writing. I mention this particular line from Romeo and Juliet because it holds a lot of relevancy to my perceptions of Harvard Forest, and what actually became of my experience here. So, what is in the name Harvard Forest?

     Initially, it was excitement. Upon acceptance to the program, I was thrilled at the idea of spending another summer conducting my very own research, surrounded by both nature and like-minded people who were also super passionate about science. (I was working at Harvard FOREST!) But as I began to share my good news with my friends and family at home, that excitement very quickly decomposed into fear and anxiety. The name Harvard Forest, you see, carries a lot of weight with it. My family and friends, just as excited as I was, were more focused about the “Harvard” part of Harvard Forest. In the weeks leading to my departure for Massachusetts, anxiety and Impostor Syndrome had flooded the hole left behind by an excitement that had long since evaporated. I became afraid. Afraid of going all the way to “Harvard” and returning home as a failure. Afraid that I, a student in a tiny university on a tiny, far-flung island in the Western Pacific, could not be on par with students from larger, more well-established universities. Afraid of being perceived as incompetent and uninterested. (You get the gist of it). In my head, the name Harvard Forest became stylized with “Harvard” as a bold, crimson-colored size 32-font giant, and “Forest” italicized in an unassuming grey, size 8 font. I began to stop using the name “Harvard Forest” when people asked where I was going in the summer. “Just research in a field station in Central Massachusetts” I would reply. When pressed further, I’d change the subject.

***

     Writing this now, on my eighth week at the Forest, I see now that many of my fears were irrational. (Certainly, I had let the name get to my head). I no longer associate the name “Harvard Forest” with intimidation or lofty expectations. That’s because I’ve come to realize that a summer at Harvard Forest is not simply research, seminars, data collection, coding in R, and field work. (Don’t be fooled, though – these are still very much an integral part of a summer here). Harvard Forest is much more than that. It is the astonishing sensation of watching names on the “hfsummer” email list transform into actual people with smiling faces and distinct personalities. It is lounging around a TV that still plays VHS tapes, watching movies with the new friends you slowly made at your time here. It is the simple joy of crowding around a table with said friends, putting together a jigsaw puzzle amidst cheerful chatter and laughter. It is sitting on a fencepost at 11 PM, watching the glow of fireflies under a twinkling night sky. It is the rush of air that glides through your hair as you weave between the trunks of towering trees on a rickety seven-speed bike. It is an amalgam of countless other experiences you have seen on this blog post and many others.  

     So, dear reader, you’ve come this far. Maybe you’re a prospective REU student looking to apply? Or perhaps you’ve already been accepted. In either case, maybe you’re a bit nervous, like I was. Take my advice – remember good old Juliet. Forget that this place is called Harvard Forest, and instead focus on the happy memories and great work ahead of you. As for me, I’ve stopped calling Harvard Forest a “field station in Central Massachusetts.” Doing so would be an injustice to such a memorable and sentimental place. I am now proud to say that I have spent a summer REU at Harvard Forest. Not because of the name of the place, but because of all the happy memories that surface from my memory when I hear the name Harvard Forest.

 

Seanne is a rising Senior at University of Guam studying Biology.

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