Sage Advice

August 28, 2014
HDS students
New students attending a resources fair on August 27. Photo: Michael Naughton

Learn from your classmates, practice joy and gratitude, and venture out. That's some of the wisdom members of the HDS community have to share with the 136 incoming students who started their orientation this week.

The students come from 30 states and from countries across the globe, including China, India, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Over 20 religious traditions are represented in the 2014-15 incoming class.

Below, a recent HDS graduate, members of the staff, and Dean David N. Hempton offer advice to the newest HDS community members as the academic year begins.

Dean David N. Hempton

I hope that you will read, adopt, and come to treasure our community values. One of our value statements reads: "As we advance our shared commitment to education and scholarship, we endeavor to build a community and, ultimately, a world in which people can peacefully live and work together across religious and cultural divides." As a native of Belfast, I know this is a noble and vital aspiration, both for our community here at Harvard and for the wider world.

Make time to connect with others. Friendships, connections with fellow students in study groups and workshops, field education experiences, Rock Café socials, and participation in other student groups here at HDS and at Harvard will contribute much to your personal growth as well as to your scholarly advancement. We all learn better in cooperative communities, not as ruthless competitors.

In addition to our faculty and professional staff, another important resource is Harvard's library system. You will soon be using one of the world's great libraries—and probably the finest university library system in the world. Please talk to our research librarians and search Harvard's library catalog.

My mother used to delight in telling her friends that I entered school at age five and never quite found the exit door. She was right. Universities are such exciting places, and Harvard is perhaps the most exciting of all.

My concluding advice is simple: work hard, think hard, serve well, make friends, and leave your mark. Always be prepared to travel in new directions. Be willing to have your beliefs and opinions subjected to honest scrutiny, reformulated when appropriate, and defended as necessary.

Ainsley Land, MTS '13, HDS donor relations coordinator

Venture out. Integrate your HDS experience with your broader Harvard, Cambridge, Boston, national, and international experiences. I believe that interdisciplinary endeavors should represent the future of most academic and professional work, and I think that any track of study at HDS can be strengthened by checking out the incredible trove of resources to be found across the university.

Don't limit these explorations to your "academic" work either. Join a running club, a community orchestra, an afternoon volunteer program, or a brunch reading group. You are building your life here, even if you see it as a step to another vocational or geographic location, so remind yourself to live a balanced life that brings you joy. Involving yourself in activities outside of the classroom and the study carrel will help you love what you do and stay productive doing it.

Finally, treat graduate school like a job. Decide what hours you prefer and stick to them so that you make your work hours really count. Having activities that you love outside of school will help you stay motivated not to procrastinate. Remember that "busy" is not always the same as "productive," and if you aren't spending at least an hour a day getting outdoors, exercising, listening to music, zoning out, or anything else that makes you feel great, you are spending too much time working.

At the end of the day, the papers will be written and the articles will be read, but more than that, you are constructing habits that will follow you beyond the few years that you are at HDS, so be intentional with your time and energy.

Kerry Maloney, director of religious and spiritual life

Practice joy and gratitude. Remember what drew you here. Most of us are at HDS, teaching and learning, because deep questions of ultimacy and intimacy have been awakened in us and have drawn us to investigate them further. Whether or not you find your life embraced by one of the world's great religious traditions, we are all here in service of something larger than ourselves. Keep that joy and privilege close to your heart and mind as you pursue your studies. Well into any academic year, it can be easy to lose sight of why you came here amid the myriad daily demands that will compete for your time and attention. Be grateful, even for those endless demands.

Practice resistance. Resist the notion of the spiritual life as separate from the intellectual life, as something "tacked onto" or "tucked into" the rest of your life as a scholar. Genuine spirituality and rigorous scholarship can and do inhere in each other. Consider your time of study here as a school for the spirit in which you are being formed ever more deeply as a contemplative activist or an active contemplative. Intentionally seek out opportunities to learn with and from your colleagues about their diverse practices, beliefs, and loves so that your own vocation as a contemplative activist can be nourished and challenged by as many different traditions as possible.

Maritza Hernandez, associate dean for enrollment and student services

You have joined a small and rich community of people that come from different parts of the world, with wide-ranging professional experiences, academic interests, and vocational goals. Among you there are activists, community organizers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, writers, teachers, poets, artists, and dancers.

With such a diverse and pluralistic community there may be times when you may feel like the outsider, therefore, I encourage you to take the time to speak with each other in and outside the classroom and be willing to have open, honest, and respectful conversations with each other. I think you will be amazed by how much you will learn when you open yourself up to hearing others life experiences and views, as well as sharing your own.

Be patient, listen, give the benefit of the doubt, and know that you will not always agree with someone else's view and that sometimes you will just agree to disagree. Respect each other and value each other's differences.

We all view life through our own lens—that is what makes us unique. Stay open to all that may come your way, do not be afraid to have difficult conversations and to ask questions, to acknowledge that you may not be as familiar with a particular topic and be ready to learn not just from your professors but also your classmates, staff, and other members of this wonderful community of learners.

Leslie MacPherson Artinian, member of the HDS Green Team and departmental administrator in the Office of Ministry Studies

You will discover that we are committed to sustainability on campus and in our community. From using fully-compostable dinnerware and cups at events and in the Rock Café, to creating our community garden, there are many steps that HDS has taken in our efforts to take better care of our school and the wider world.

We were pioneers for "green cleaning" at Harvard, and all of our landscaping is done organically. When Rockefeller Hall was renovated in 2008, we were given LEED Gold certification and, currently, all our electricity is provided by wind power purchased through renewable energy credits.

We want you involved. First, make sure you put trash, recycling, and compost in the right containers. It might take a few extra seconds to figure it out, but it matters. You can get involved with the HDS Garden. We grow food for Faith Kitchen, a local soup kitchen, and gardeners and aspiring gardeners are all welcome. To follow what we are doing, you can "like" us on Facebook.

Because we believe that the best way to recycle is to reuse, we encourage you to use visit our freecycle area in the lower level of Andover Hall and to bring your reusable mug when you get coffee in Rock Café. You will save money, too!

We are proud of what we are doing and hope that you will become part of it, too.

—by Michael Naughton