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Official Tour sticker, Harvard University

As I leafed through our mail this evening, I came across an envelope from Harvard University, addressed to Missy JJ, asking her to consider applying to their college. With its international fame and low acceptance rate of just over 5%, I wondered why Harvard needed to reach out.

But seeing their official seal and the brochure put us in mind of our trip in October of 2016, when we visited Boston for a long weekend. Our first stop then was to Harvard University. There is a student-led tour of the campus from Monday to Saturday that launches from the Harvard information Center. I signed us up for the 11 am tour that Saturday morning. The tour is capped at 35 people and on a first come, first serve basis.

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Johnston Gate, Harvard University

By the time we reached the Harvard Information office, it was nearing 10:30 am and the 11 am tour was already filled. We were asked to come back at the top of the hour to sign up for the next tour. We stayed in the vicinity and made certain to be back at the center shortly before 11 am. It was wonderful to see so many people, from so many different countries, who had made a pilgrimage to Harvard. We heard so many languages, most of which we could not recognize. Once the tour was officially open, it became a bit of a mad house, trying to get our names registered and obtaining the stickers for the tour. But Mr. JJ persisted and was able to get us secured on that tour.

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Harvard Yard

The Harvard campus that morning was filled with gentle fall colors and a balmy sunny day. We were led on the tour by a third year student, originally from NYC. We learnt about the 26 gates leading to Harvard. Its said that a student passes through Johnston Gate, the main gate, only twice, once while entering as a freshman and again after graduation. To go through more than twice is considered bad luck.

It’s commonly believed that John Harvard, whose statue sits in Harvard Yard, founded the university in 1638. Standing at the foot of the statue, the student explained the “three lies”.

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John Harvard statue, Harvard Yard

The oldest institution for higher studies, Harvard was established in 1636 after a vote from the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with a grant of £ 400. It was initially called New College. (Not founded in 1638 by Harvard)

John Harvard was an Englishman who moved to the colonies in 1637. He was an avid scholar, a collector of books, including many Shakespearean works and a tavern owner. He taught as a member of the clergy and died rather young, at age 31, in the year 1638. He bequeathed half his estate and library collection to New College upon his death.

In his honor, New College was named Harvard. His book collection was lost in a fire that ravaged Harvard. No actual images of John Harvard were available for reproduction. Several years later, the school modeled the current statue of John Harvard on a student. (Not a true replica of John Harvard).

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Harvard Yard, ablush, in fall colors

The Harry Elkins Widener library is massive and poignant in its history. Widener, a Harvard graduate himself, was crossing the Atlantic on the Titanic when he perished. The Library was established in his memory. Interestingly, the structure of the library cannot be added on or changed in any way. And no new structure can be built around the library. In order to accommodate the growing collection, the engineers sought to dig beneath Harvard Yard. The structure extends for six miles underneath and stocks 6 million books over 54 miles of shelves! (At least, as of October 2016). That’s mind-boggling!

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The Widener library, Harvard University

The Gothic structure of Annenberg Hall, where the freshmen dine, is eerily familiar to Harry Potter fans. The Memorial Hall is home to an immense collection of secular stained glass windows. We weren’t allowed inside Annenberg Hall or the adjacent Sanders Theater.

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Annenberg Hall with its stained glass windows

The Science center, built by JL Sert, is home to the Harvard Mark 1 computer as well as the Cabot library, large lecture halls, observatory, cafe and museum. Every student on campus has to go through at least one class at the science center.

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Sever Hall with the iconic red brick
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Sever Hall architectural details

We made the short walk to the the Natural History Museum which had a wonderful collection of about 12,000 specimens spread over 16 galleries. The 42 foot long Kronosaurus, the amethyst geode, the Blaschka glass models, among other displays.

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Harvard Natural History Museum display
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Amethyst Geode, Harvard Natural History Museum
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Fossil, Harvard Natural History Museum
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Mola from the Guna Yala tribe of Panama, Harvard Natural History Museum
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Harvard Natural History Museum display

On a beautiful fall morning, we had the pleasure of walking the hallowed grounds of a legendary institution. John Harvard could not have imagined how emblematic of knowledge and scholarship his college would become. How immense and grand, its library! How renowned, its fame! I am happy he chose to bestow upon this place of learning, his estate! Whether Missy JJ chooses to apply here, or not, I am happy we chose to visit Harvard on that trip.

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