The Best Major at Harvard


I entered Harvard College 48 years ago, the semester JFK was assassinated. Although I don’t feel old, it occurs to me that if any undergraduates are reading this, that statement is the equivalent of someone telling me in 1963 that they were in the college during the World War I – i.e., ancient history. I don’t intend to make this a history report, nor to elaborate on what we volunteers did for kids through the Lyman School Project (a reform school in central Massachusetts) or a Cambridge Schools mentoring project. I just want to say a few words about what PBH did for me.

(Parenthetically, and contrary to the intention just expressed, I don’t think we usually called it Brooks House. That locution must have been introduced when the A got added to “PBH”, making it too long for the time-pressed youth to say.)

I attribute the course of my whole life to the PBH experience. From an English major, I went on to graduate school in Education and Developmental Psychology, an academic career studying the social context of human development (elaborated on my Wikipedia page, if anyone’s curious), and then a clinical career as a family therapist. It wasn’t really the best course at Harvard (I could list a number of those one-time experiences), it was much more, the best major at Harvard.

I attribute the course of my whole life to the PBH experience.

I recently had lunch with Elisha “Major” Gray, who recruited me to the Lyman School Project and later started the mentoring project. (Note, this happens almost 50 years later, in a Chicago suburb). Major is a retired banker, who has continued similar volunteer commitments all these years, currently on the Boards of the Illinois Nature Conservancy and a large residential school for children who are wards of the state. I think what this says is that as much as the world changes, in modern times, society’s needs for philanthropic and volunteer commitments don’t change much, nor do we change much as human beings after we leave college. But college does shape the course of our commitments and our careers, and in the case of Harvard, perhaps most colleges, undergraduate life probably plays at least as large a role in that shaping as anything we learned in classrooms.