As the students filed out of my classroom one mid-May afternoon, I noticed Ricky lingering quietly, pretending to read the newspaper articles posted on a bulletin board in the back of the room.
“Ricky, do you need something?” I asked. (No student ever actually stopped to read the articles.)
After a deep sigh, and with a look somewhere between confusion and frustration, he looked me in the eye. “Miss,” he asked, “why do you have to go back to back to graduate school? Why do you have to leave us?”
I could have answered Ricky with a quote from my admissions essay about wanting to broaden my impact, to affect the lives of not only the 30 students in my classroom, but thousands more. I could have told him about policy analysis, or decision trees, or indifference curves. But, to an 11-year old more concerned about who was going to plan the next student council dance and whether or not his new social studies teacher would take the class on pretend trips around the world, these answered seemed somehow insufficient.
Today, I might answer Ricky’s question with memories. With the moments that HKS has gifted to me – moments that now live as blurry snapshots, frozen my mind.
There’s the moment I first entered the forum, humbled amongst the flags of hundreds of nations, overly eager to introduce myself to my new classmates, and terrified that they would all turn out to be both smarter and more experienced than me. I would tell Ricky about the late night problem set parties on the third floor of Littauer, where – after 5 hours of attempting to solve for the equilibrium price of parking in Harvard Square – we crossed the line from utter frustration to delirious laughter.
There was the epic MPP1 versus MPP2 snowball fight on the Cambridge Common during our favorite blizzard named after a cartoon fish, and the Fridays spent catching up with friends and sharing free beer at quorum call.
I would tell Ricky about hearing the President of Argentina discuss the future of her nation and dining with former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. I would undoubtedly include the details of the tragic day last spring, when disaster struck our adopted hometown, and the immense outpouring of support as classmates scrambled to make contact with one another and help each other process the unfathomable. Soon, there will be memories too of a graduation day – a final visit to a sunny Harvard Yard surrounded by the family and friends who have supported us throughout our journey.
But, ultimately, it is not the mere existence of these memories that makes our time here at HKS so special. Instead, it is the way that these memories will forever alter how we live out our vocation, the way that they will continue to shape the men and women that we have become.
It was during those casual chats at Friday afternoon quorum calls that I was introduced to the policy initiatives that now fuel my passion for city government. It was during those late night, delirious-laughter-filled study sessions that I developed the econometric skills to make sure my work in education counts. And it was when disaster struck that I pulled closer to the colleagues who have become my closest confidants, individuals who taught me what it means to fill a sometimes-hostile world with love. I carry with me not only two years of poignant memories, but also the knowledge that these memories will continue to shape my work for decades to come.
We all have our own “Rickies.” We all left work – meaningful work – to spend these past two years together. We did it because this place is special. We did it because it has made us better policy analysts, better public servants, and most importantly better men and women. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Adrienne Murphy is a graduating MPP student, with a focus in education policy. She holds a Master’s degree in Latin American studies from Stanford and a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to enrolling in graduate school, she was sixth grade teacher in Mission, Texas.