Since my non-college friends have no idea what my undergraduate experience was like at Harvey Mudd College, I thought I would write a throwback blogpost.  This is a speech I gave at a senior lunch banquet event near graduation almost exactly 5 years ago.  Enjoy!

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The Kind of Place that Harvey Mudd was for Me

written 05/12/2012

            If someone were to ask me to describe Harvey Mudd College, I would tell that person about a class I took in the spring of our sophomore year.  There was carbons lab, where I accidentally learned how to dissolve my wrist watch and get it to drip all over my arm.  There was STEMS where I was taught to pretend that everything is just a mass on a spring.  But actually, the one class that best embodies the essence of Harvey Mudd College was a class called Real Analysis.

            In Real Analysis I learned to question the very definition of real numbers and everything I knew about mathematics.  What do you mean I have to prove how to add two real numbers?  Proof by common sense and elementary education were strictly prohibited.

            Real Analysis was perhaps the hardest class I’ve taken, and my first experience of struggling in math.  I wasn’t getting the concepts as quickly as some of my peers, and I couldn’t help feeling incompetent in math, a subject I had always felt confident in.  Professor Su said this class was “the gateway to being a math major,” and I think he was trying to motivate us or something.  However, to me the “gateway” to mathematics never felt so narrow and without space for an incompetent student like me.  In a way, that’s the kind of place that Harvey Mudd was.

            Fortunately, there’s more to the story.  During that semester I was doing a book study with Prof. Su outside of class, and I was uncomfortable.  Sitting before me was a super smart incredible professor, and I felt really unworthy to be hanging out with him because I wasn’t doing so well in his class, and I thought I might disappoint him once he got to know me personally.  But at our last meeting, we were talking and he said, “I want students to understand that professors don’t value students based on their academic performances.”  I’ve heard that from friends, upper classmen, deans, whatever.  But to hear from my own professor, whom I really love and admire, at a time when I felt ashamed of my intelligence and thus unworthy of his friendship, that I wasn’t just a student in a seat, not just a letter grade or a number on my transcript, but a valuable person who he wants to know on a personal level, was perhaps the most incredible moment of my college career.  And that’s the kind of place that Harvey Mudd was.

            There was also a guy name Ryan Muller, who tutored for Real Analysis, and here is why he was incredible.  I was at Analysis tutoring, and Ryan Muller, stayed an extra 2 hours to save our butts once again.  That was nice.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Later that night I was working on Analysis in Platt.  It was 2 AM and the night was still young, and so was I.  I looked up and I saw Ryan Muller working on the circle table near the coffee machine.  It was 4 AM and the night was no longer young.  I looked up and I saw Ryan Muller worn out but still working.  I finished around 5, as the sun came up, and I left Ryan alone and working in Platt.  And here’s what I thought:  “Are you kidding me?  You had this much work but you spent an extra 2 hours tutoring us?  Ryan Muller, you are so incredible that I want to be just like you.”  And that’s the kind of place that Harvey Mudd was.

            You see, it’s true what they say that with great trials, comes strength that help us get through.  It was a tough 4 years getting through this narrow “gateway” to higher education, but it was also an incredible 4 years learning from professors and fellow students who helped me and inspired me to stick it through.  I am still light-years away from being like Professor Su or Ryan Muller, but I intend to take that part of Harvey Mudd along with me wherever I go.

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Simeon Koh

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