The Common Ground


Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center - Harvard

Sunset in the sky, dusk, a single man was setting up a classical guitar performance on the old red-brick sidewalk in front of the campus center near Harvard Square. As all of his equipment becomes set, I could see this was no ordinary street performer. This performance was amplified.

From the soft, warm sounds of this instrument, a white-haired man pucks smoothly through this formal type of classical guitar into a full surround sound setup. The sound quality becomes even more full from a distance. Many people notice the man and come closer. Some tap their foot, some sway, to the song as he performs a familiar tune. Even though it was all instrumental guitar, he didn't sing, but I could remember the song well from my past. I also sang along with the melody.

"There's a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure. Cause you know, sometimes words have two meanings." It's the Led Zeppelin tune from 1971, Stairway to Heaven. This part of the song invoked my curiosity about this place. As I set off on my walk around, this song stayed with me in my mind.

As my first night at the campus, I took a look at the signs on the wall behind me. The Harvard Common Space at the campus center is an excellent place for students to eat, study, share some thoughts and ideas, or just spending time together, with their peers at school.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into this ten-floor facility, was the cafeteria, smell of food, drinks, and the feeling of lively comradery from the many in the common area. Walking past the student bulletin board on the wall, I decided on a beverage to refresh. I chose a fresh veggie drink from the juice bar. Cool and refreshing, the combination of carrot, celery, and apple was invigorating and awoke my senses. The multi vegetable flavor was just what I needed.

Enjoying my drink, I turned directly around 180 degrees and looked up. The entire floor is a vast, wide-open shared space of sitting areas, tables, and couches adjacent the walls and balconies along with three stories of broad scenic windowed view. From the substantial open-floored perspective up three levels, the very colorful sofas and chairs, to even a full windowed sunroof ceiling, is designed to be filled with energy, yet relaxing. It's no wonder there are always so many students and people here. The first three floors are called the common center and open to the public. The rest of the building is allocated to Harvard students only. Luckily I have my student ID card with me.

Stepping onto the elevator, I'm required to swipe my ID card. Fumbling to place my card in the slot correctly, I smoothly ran the length of the card through the reader, and I was accepted to go in the elevator: only to be required to swipe my card again! This really gave me the feeling of how exclusive the rest of the building is to active Harvard students and staff. I hit the ten buttons on the panel and went up.


The Heights Restaurant + Bar - Harvard Common Spaces

As the doors open to the 10th floor, I was stunned by the view out the glass windows. I hurriedly walked over and took photos. The Heights Restaurant and Bar is a diner, lounge, and cocktail bar that is open only at certain times of the day. But the feeling of the place was very prestigious. I could only imagine the great people that must have looked out these same windows, ten floors up overlooking the entire campus. It made me feel, how I'm just one guy here, and how lucky I was to experience this as many before me in the past.

The cafeteria on the 10th floor is open only during lunchtime, but the entire floor is open as the common area is always open to students. Crimson color sofas, remind the school colors of Harvard, student art and newly modeled decor are vibrant. The game room is sleek and modern. I even stopped and played a game of pool on the new tables. After the game, I walked past the window view again, and I felt like I could sit here, next to the glass window, and study all day. After a little time reflecting and enjoying the view, I headed back down the elevator.

As I found my way out of the commons building, there were many choices to make. Among all of the shops, bars, entertainment, and people walking around, I needed to decide. Should I go out and have fun with the crowd? Or should I explore more of the Harvard grounds to see what I can find? As I was looking at my map, I thought of the Led Zeppelin song again. "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, But in the long run, There's still time to change the road you're on." It was the same dilemma I faced. Then, I decided to go inside the Harvard yard and explore more of the campus.


Lamont Library | Harvard Library

Stepping humbly through the entry gate to the yard, I walked four minutes to Lamont Library, as the smell of fresh-cut grass chilled in the night air. When the sun goes down, the campus comes to life with the illumination of the school's lighting system. From the buildings to the trees, the entire grounds are on display with warm hues of yellow, like the flame from a candle, as a time before electricity when the campus was lit by oil lamplight. The library itself sets off the area with lights red and orange from the wall of windows revealing the interior of the building.

As I made it to the library, I noticed how different this library looks at night. This is one library most people don't take pictures of in the day, but at night it comes to life with the light arrangements they use for this building. Even the name of the building, carved in stone, comes to life with illumination shadowing the letters behind the granite texture on the library's outside wall near the entrance.

Stepping into the single floored building, I swiped my card and walked right to the cafeteria, and I could smell freshly brewed coffee coming from the counter as I bought a snack from one of the many vending machines along the wall. Sitting down at one of the sofas near the window, as students walked by outside, the bushes and trees along the sidewalk of the grounds outside radiated by the library light. Relaxing and opening my chips, enjoying the company of students hard at work, I was impressed at how modern and casual this library was. Finishing my snack, I made my way to the next place.


Widener Library - Harvard

Exiting the building, I strolled along the yard to go to the Widener Library not far away. As I walked up to the intimidatingly colossal building, I instantly thought it looked like a courthouse. Ten gigantic limestone pillars line the front entrance atop a sizable stone staircase lifting the building into the air. With its lighting set uplifting it even further off the ground, I felt so small compared to its authoritative presence. The sheer size of the structure, it's actual address, being #1 Harvard Yard, and the 3.5 million books found within the building, I felt that I was right at the heart of Harvard.

I found out this library was named after, the young book collector and heir to transit-car millions, Harry Elkins Widener, who died in the epic trans-Atlantic liner accident aboard the Titanic in 1912. Reflecting on this man's story, I felt saddened on how he was always so concerned about contributing to the Harvard legacy and tragically passed away before he could give his life's work to the school. But, I later found out that his mother donated all of her son's books to the school in his name. This really touched me in a way I didn't yet understand.

Standing out front of the library, looking up at the vast stone pillars that line the elevated staircase, I remembered that song again: "and if you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last, when all are one, and one is all, to be a rock and not to roll." And I thought this is what I'm looking for. This is what Harvard University is working to do. By building a foundation, or common understanding for all of us to stand on where we can all be rock solid to the common ground which we walk on together.