This Thursday night marked the Class of 2019’s first exposure to one of many Harvard traditions, Primal Scream. Running around naked, shivering, and presumably being intoxicated does not exactly fit the old-money, blue-blood stereotype of America’s oldest university. Yet, the event known as Primal Scream occurs without fail bi-annually the night before final exams officially begin.
As you can imagine, Primal Scream is a self-conscious person’s worst nightmare. You know those anxiety-filled dreams people often get, the ones where they realize they’re at school with no clothes on? This is literally it. Nonetheless, I paused my pset-ing and made my way out into the Yard with a few friends, refusing to miss out on the infamous naked run. As odd as it felt to be a spectator for an event so unorthodox, that was going to have to be the role I played, since participating was out of the question for body-shy me.
The Harvard Band, clad in their crimson jackets and spandex shorts for the evening’s event, played with all the excitement one would expect from a group of freshman boys in the presence of naked girls. Slowly but surely, the crowd of Primal Screamers grew bigger, clumping into one large, naked mass across from the John Harvard statue. They began chanting, playing music, and jumping up and down to keep from freezing to death. Girls ran out of their dorms with pink fuzzy robes, boys sprinted by in towels, and many students wore nothing at all. As a completely sober spectator, it was my job to pretend not to notice the flailing genitalia, so those of us not participating rocked back on our heels awkwardly, discussing final exams schedules and the weather.
When the run started, however, there was a change in energy. Jogging side by side, the naked huddle filed out into a line, snaking through the Yard in one giant lap. The dark, along with the sheer vastness of the crowd meant it was impossible to identify faces, and so students ran in naked anonymousness – free of judgment and free of inhibitions. We high-fived friends who had stripped to take the lap, shuffled out of the way of a naked couple skateboarding, pointed and gawked at the two boys in life vests with canoe paddles, and blushed and averted our eyes as a girl, trailing behind the pack, came sprinting passed, a stuffed tiger clutched to her chest, perhaps in a moment of self-conscious panic.
Of all the moments I’ve experienced here at Harvard, this shouldn’t have been a particularly emotional one, and yet I found myself overcome with pride and awe at this institution I am lucky enough to be a part of. Those who don’t know or understand this school often place it in a category akin to royalty. Prestigious, pretentious, and preposterously wealthy, often times we Harvard students are judged before we can even begin to defend our alma mater. We are not old-money, blue-blooded, or self-centered, we are not just a number on an SAT test or a face-less application in an admissions office; we are people. We are young, and we are energized, and we do the same crazy (and arguably unhealthy) things other teenagers do.
I think it is amazing to sit in Annenberg and wonder about who at your lunch table will one day sit in the Oval Office; to sit down in a lecture hall and have world leaders, doctors, renowned authors, groundbreaking musicians, all yet to be recognized, surrounding you. But it is just as impressive, in my mind, to walk outside on a chilly December night, and witness those future world leaders running naked, drunkenly, in celebration of finals week, like any other energetic, riled-up college student would.
Here at Harvard, you can be both.