Pictures of Harvard, especially those in admissions brochures, often feature the green grass of the yard. These pictures may contrast the grass with an imposing brick building or show students lounging in some of the colorful lawn chairs. Those of us who attend Harvard, know better than to believe these pictures.
The grass at Harvard is often just dirt, if not mud. The grass displayed requires the constant installation of fresh rolls of pre-grown grass. The grass must be roped off to prevent it from being trampled, and once the grass is open to the public it quickly reverts to dirt. And yet again and again, Harvard dutifully plants new grass, well aware it will soon be ruined. Harvard, though, has little choice. If it stopped planting new grass, the entire yard would quickly turn into a quagmire.
Harvard Yard is an unnatural place, but one which Harvard constantly strives to dress up as natural. The yard is made to look like a village green, typical quaint New England fare, when in fact it is an internationally famous destination for tourists. Harvard tries to make sure every visitor, student, prospective student, and generous alumnus gets the proper experience of Harvard, right down to the grass under his or her feet.
But in a way this unnatural and Sisyphean struggle for beautiful grass is fitting for Harvard, which is itself an unnatural place. Harvard is a place which draws together people from all over the world, from different cultures, from different experiences. Students with different interests, different life goals, different ideas of right and wrong live together in one community. The Harvard community is not one that arises naturally like a local gardening club. Such a community comes together due to common interest and geographic convenience for the sake of mutual benefit. The Harvard community has no such natural explanation. Rather, Harvard is manmade.
Harvard is the product of the Puritans who founded the school to train ministers, of all the professors who chose to teach here, and of all the students who chose to learn here. Harvard is not something that just happened or appeared naturally. This bit of land on the Charles River was not destined to be a great university. It took hard work year after year for almost four hundred years. Just like the grass which makes the yard beautiful for everyone, Harvard requires an unnatural and ongoing labor.
Throughout the Bible, human life and labor are compared to grass. Like the grass of Harvard Yard, they flourish for a moment and are gone. Though Harvard has continued on for a long time, it will not last forever. Someday the grass in Harvard Yard will wither and no one will roll out fresh sod. Harvard’s fight for green grass is an impressive one, but it is nature of grass to eventually pass away.