Alumnus finds Christian influences, work ethic at Ivy League
During his first year at Harvard University, FC alumnus Richard Lopez, '11, top left center, has been introduced to the rigorous Ivy League atmosphere. In this feature, Lopez reflects on his experience thus far.
In this occasional feature, The Feather staff will discuss college preparation and experiences with Academic Adviser Molly Sargent and special guests. This is the second installment in the series.
With hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States, eight elite schools stand out: the Ivy Leagues. Their reputation of merit puts them up at the top of college rankings. Besides being treated as schools, they are even thought of as museums by visitors who absolutely must take a picture with the John Harvard statue.
For '11 alumnus Richard Lopez, the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA is not an exhibit, but a home. After graduating from FC, Lopez has moved on to explore the world of the Ivies as a physics student at one of the most famous universities in the world. With one semester complete and the second under way, Lopez shares an insight into the renown school.
Hierholzer: The first question has to be whether or not Harvard is as difficult as it's made up to be.
Lopez: Yes and no. Yes, Harvard is very difficult; no, it is not as difficult as most people would probably think. Everyone still has time to pursue a wide range of activities, or just hang out with friends. It is not a cut-throat environment. However, the work load is much more than I was used to. Instead of being given a few weeks to read a novel, I am given five days. Instead of finishing a math assignment in 30 minutes, it can take up to seven hours. Though that may sound difficult, it is more about time management than anything.
Hierholzer: Was it daunting to enter the campus and attend your first day of classes?
Lopez: It was definitely a unique experience, but I would definitely not say daunting. Sadly, I was sick the first day of class, so I do not remember much. But, I do remember sitting down in my first class and finally feeling like I was a college student. [It was] one of the best experiences I have had.
Hierholzer: What has been the hardest aspect of the academics so far?
Lopez: How teachers expect us to learn. In high school, a lot of information was "spoon-fed" to us and all we had to do was regurgitate the information on the homework or assignments. Here, teachers give us a very basic understanding in the lectures and ask us to go much deeper in the homework. It is rare that I look at a physics or math problem and instantly know how to do it. It takes a lot of extra work to try and reach the level of understanding that my teachers expect.
"I walked on campus and looked up at Annenberg Hall and saw the snow on the building. Beyond its beauty, I finally realized that I was at Harvard. That was the moment that it clicked in my head. I am a Harvard student." --Richard Lopez, '11 alumnus
Hierholzer: Have you met the next Mark Zuckerberg yet?
Lopez: I probably have, but the greatest part about being here is that most people are humble enough not to brag about their accomplishments or interests, so I couldn't say who that person is. However, I did meet someone who looks exactly like Jesse Eisenberg, if that counts for anything.
Hierholzer: Have you had any surreal moments or encounters?
Lopez: The first day I came back for my second semester, it was snowing outside. I walked on campus and looked up at Annenberg Hall and saw the snow on the building. Beyond its beauty, I finally realized that I was at Harvard. That was the moment that it clicked in my head: I am a Harvard student.
Hierholzer: What has been the hardest part about adjusting to a new environment?
Lopez: Leaving loved ones at home. There are so many people that mean the world to me back home and it is really hard not being able to see them everyday. I have been here for months and that feeling still hasn't gone away. I mean, I have definitely made plenty of friends here that I deeply care about, but I still miss everyone back home. I have no idea what I would do if I didn't have Skype or a cell phone.
Hierholzer: Has it been difficult moving into a secular place as a Christian?
Lopez: I could imagine how it might be for some, but if anything, this transition into a more secular area was exactly what I needed. For starters, I found an amazingly supportive Christian group on campus called Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA) and a great church, so I have yet to feel alone as a Christian here. But more importantly, I have seen the need for the gospel in places like Harvard.
Having grown up in a Christian atmosphere, Lopez was unused to a secular environment when he began at Harvard. However, he has found a Christian community in a campus group, and encourages other FC students to do the same when they are in college.
Growing up in a Christian environment, I have not witnessed what it is like to be around a majority of non-Christians. I feel an overwhelming compassion and love for those who are still lost that I would have never understood or felt if I had gone to a Christian university. I have grown so much as a Christian in just one semester of being here. I know that God has a plan for me here and put me here. Yes, some times have been difficult, but I know that being here has been better for me in the long run.
Hierholzer: What advice do you have for Christian students moving into a secular atmosphere?
Lopez: First, find a Christian group on campus. I am sure every university would have one, and if yours doesn't, then make one. I know you might think that you can do this on your own, but you can't. I know because I felt like I could do this on my own, but I have no idea what I would do without HCFA for my support.
Next, go to church. Now you don't need to go every Sunday, especially in the middle of finals week or midterms, but a great church is a great way to get connected in the community and it is a great way to start the week of fresh and rejuvenated.
Hierholzer: At this point, many high school juniors and seniors feel like college is an unbeatable force out to get them. Is this where you were last year? What do you wish that you had known at the time?
Lopez: I wish I would have known that there is no reason to stress about college. A year ago, I was stressing if I would get into MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] or UC [University of California] Berkeley and worrying so much about leaving that I "forgot" to enjoy my last year in high school. Don't let that happen. Enjoy the time you have, and everything will work out. I am definitely not where I thought I would be a year ago, but I am definitely happier now than I ever thought I would be. Everything will work out and stressing about it doesn't change anything.
Hierholzer: Now that you're past this step, you're at Harvard. Clearly it is possible for us to overcome the daunting world of colleges. What advice do you have for students feeling overwhelmed with applications and choices?
Lopez: I would tell them to visit the colleges they were considering going to. I thought I was going to MIT before I visited. Harvard was on the bottom of my list. But after visiting, I couldn't see myself anywhere beside Harvard. Though it may be expensive or time consuming to go visit the colleges, it is definitely worth it.
Hierholzer: What about the students who are aiming for the top schools?
Lopez: First, they should make sure they feel at home at one of the top schools. It is nice to get in and go there, but if they aren't comfortable there, then it would be a terrible decision, even if it was the best school in the world.
Next, they should focus on activities that they are passionate about, instead of doing a million different activities just to impress colleges. I loved acting in high school, and that is what I wrote my essay about. The admission office can tell if people pursue activities they are interested in, as opposed to people who pursue activities to make colleges interested in them. They need to do what they love, and the rest will fall into place.
For the previous installment of College Culture, read the Nov. 28, 2011 article, College culture: Christian vs. secular