Harvard University’s dean of the College, Rakesh Khurana’s is nearly as new in the dean role as the undergraduates he addressed at the annual Convocation ceremony on Monday (Sept. 1). Khurana, referring to himself as a “freshman dean” seemingly spoke as much to himself and colleagues as the tenderfoot students. And his message was that of openness and connection—to treat this and every experience as “transformational” instead of “transactional.” The sentiments transcend universities, communities and cultures.
The big takeaway is this: Khurana urged students to transform intellectually, socially and personally. And a transformational college experience is “rooted in the idea of intellectual exploration.” Khurana suggested taking courses that are difficult and interesting instead of classes that will pad a GPA for medical or business school. Khurana posited a shift of focus from such “material goals” to the journey down an intellectual path. “To find comfort outside of what in the past has felt safe,” Khurana says.
In congruence with stepping outside of a habitual and comfortable lifestyle, Khurana’s explanation of social transformation is to avoid gravitating toward familiar and similar people. Instead of networking for selfish reasons, meeting others for sincere interest in them and their stories. And seeking these connections will add value not just during the academic experience but also throughout life.
REFLECT ON THESE THREE QUESTIONS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF COLLEGE
The personal transformation, according to Khurana comes from reflection. Specifically, reflecting upon and answering these three questions: Who am I? How do others experience me? How can I best use my talents and gifts? Khurana said it is about reflecting on what you have learned from the intellectual and social transformation and deciding what type of person you want to be.
“If you spend these years taking no chances, reinforcing your beliefs and deferring any reflection on who you are and what you want, I promise you, you will be doing the same thing in 20 years,” Khurana said.
Khurana closed by emphasizing again the importance of openness and connection. Additionally, Khurana suggested “taking a stand on what you think is right even if success is not assured.” Khurana hopes to create an environment and community where students can hear the greater calling. And create a condition where “the call gets louder and clearer.”
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