Harvard dream

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I keep telling myself I’m going to sit down and write a few candid paragraphs about how I happened upon Harvard–or how Harvard happened upon me. I’ve been putting it off, but the idea keeps popping back into my head–and so I’m going to quit putting it off.

I’ll start by saying I didn’t plan on getting here. Over the years I developed a few different ideas of what I’d like to do in life and those ideas usually included traveling, mission work, humanitarian efforts, and writing. And recently, I’ve had this wonderful person (husband) in my life, which of course, makes everything even better, because life changes when you have a partner who believes in you. A few months ago after I read a news article about a certain billionaire U.S. presidential candidate, I looked at Waldir and said, “I should run for President one day” and he said, “You should.” Then he added, “Really babe, you should. What do we need to do to get you there?”

I don’t want to be President. But it means a lot to me to know that if tomorrow I decide I want to do that, or go to law school (I’ve been toying with this idea for a few years now) or, lets say, sign up for something ridiculous (like the waiting list to live on a colony on Mars), Waldir will be there cheering me on.

And now I’m off topic. What I was saying–or what I was trying to get to–is that I didn’t have a plan of what I’d do after graduating with my BA in English. But one day toward the end of my junior year, the professor for whom I worked as a research assistant asked me if I had some time to talk. We met on campus and she brought me Jamba Juice. I thought we were going to talk about a work assignment she wanted me to do; instead, we sat down and started talking about life. At some point she asked me, “What are your plans?” as in What are your plans in life?

I didn’t have an answer, because I didn’t know. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I do remember that the professor, who must have been inspired by God, graciously took the time to talk with me about my interests in writing, religion, and Latin America. She also shared part of her own life story with me. I left that conversation feeling almost sure that I wanted to go to graduate school–for what, though, I didn’t know

A few days later when I saw the professor again, she asked, “Have you thought about Harvard Divinity School?” I hadn’t. But as soon as she said the name, it felt right.

As soon as I heard the name “Harvard Divinity School,” something inside me felt good. I knew nothing about this school. I knew divinity had to do with religion, and I knew the name Harvard, of course. I’d worn a Harvard t shirt since high school and half-seriously, half-jokingly talked about going there someday. But when it had come to applying for college, I applied to BYU (and BYU only) because it felt right. That’s the thing about me: Sometimes things just feel right–and sometimes I’m an all or nothing sort of girl.

I rushed home and googled “Harvard Divinity School.” Prior to that moment, I hadn’t been different from all the people who now ask me, “Wait, what? What’s divinity school?” (Theology. Religion. Ministry. Research. That’s what divinity school is about.) That evening, my research began. I read every page of the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) website. In the next days and weeks, I made lots of phone calls. I called HDS admissions. I talked to professors who got me in contact with a few BYU alumni who had gone on to get a degree at HDS. I somehow figured out about David Holland, the first and only Mormon professor at HDS, and then found his email address, wrote him, and received an encouraging response.

As the months went on and I considered more seriously the idea of divinity school at Harvard, the thought alone of applying seemed more and more daunting. The more excited I felt about applying to HDS, the more fear I felt as well. I thought about the odds, my imperfect grades, my personal weaknesses, etc. The idea of attending Harvard Divinity School felt like one big dream in the sky–a fairytale that, on the one hand, I loved to dream about and work toward, but on the other hand, seemed nearly impossible.

Surely, I told myself, I’m not smart enough. Surely, I told myself, I won’t be able to afford it. Surely, I told myself, I won’t be able to do well enough on the GRE or in the application process.

And then–in the middle of all this Harvard pondering–I met and fell in love with, and MARRIED, Waldir. My negative self talk shifted a bit: Surely, I told myself, now that I’m married, I won’t be able to do this. Surely this won’t be able to work out for us. How could we merge our goals, our plans, our futures?

Yet among all the self-deprecating talk, all the self doubting, there were still the “what if’s?” What if I manage to get in? What if, by some miracle, I get a scholarship on top of that? What if, by another miracle, Waldir and I really can pull this off together?

And I still had people cheering me on. I prayed a lot, I cried a lot, I worked really really hard, I received pep talks from Waldir, I called my mom and vented and cried some more. I’ll never forget the words from the professor who had inspired me from the beginning. “I don’t know if I can get in,” I told her. “Of course you can get in!” she said, as if my hesitancy was completely uncalled for. Support from the people I love flowed in–and somewhere in the background, there was that feeling I got the first time I heard the name “Harvard Divinity School.” That “this feels right” feeling kept coming back.

This January, I applied to the Master of theological studies program. A few (very long) months afterwards, I received my acceptance letter via email just as I sat down to do homework in the Harold B. Lee library at BYU. I screamed. I couldn’t believe it. I read the letter again, and then again, just to make sure I hadn’t misread. I laughed. I screamed again. People looked at me as I rapidly called Waldir, and then, my mom and dad. “I got in!” I half shouted, half laughed.

Now, a year and a half after this all began, here I am on the eve of my first semester as a graduate student. Despite my own views of myself–that I “couldn’t” do this or that–here I am, going to Harvard Divinity School.

I don’t know what’s in my future and I can’t always make sense of my past, but I’m starting to see a pattern: little by little, step by step, dreams become clearer. I learn to prioritize. Sometimes, a dream slips away. It either becomes less important (which is okay) or it goes unrealized (which is usually unpleasant, but probably still okay). Other times, a dream changes entirely and an even better vision comes into view.

Then there are the moments when a dream feels so right and good and true that I can’t let it go–even when holding onto it becomes painful because I’ve got to give something I’ve never given before, and that giving hurts. The dream becomes a calling worth pursuing. And so I go with it. I work. Others help me keep going when I don’t want to or don’t know how. And then I stand by and watch in awe as God orchestrates.


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