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Seniors of Note

 
Rising alumni talk about their lives at Harvard—and beyond.

“The members of this year’s graduating class all possess talents and experiences that will carry them far in the world beyond the Yard. What follows is an unscientific selection—a sampling and snapshot—of six of the 1,570 “candidates for the first degree” expected to receive their diplomas on June 7.

 

 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
Fluent in four languages, Leroy Terrelonge III plans further study of Persian culture in Iran next year.
 

Leroy Terrelonge III

“My little brother and I always tried to communicate with one another without our parents knowing,” recalls Leroy Terrelonge. Private languages and secret codes were his obsession as a child, but after teaching himself French and then taking Spanish in school, he chose to pursue languages he could share with others. At Harvard, he has studied American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, Persian, and Russian. “It gets easier,” says the Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator. “A lot of things are similar between languages—just small concepts are different.”

Terrelonge practices any way he can, often addressing strangers on the street who are speaking a foreign language. “People usually do a double-take and sometimes proceed to speak to me in English, assuming that I have memorized a rote phrase,” he explains. “But then they realize I can actually hold a conversation and they get really excited and tell me all about themselves.” His favorite story is of sitting in a coffee shop and hearing “some people speaking Persian in what I thought was a weird accent. It turns out that one of the guys was Afghan and the other was a Swiss professor who had done relief work in Afghanistan. I sat down with them, and we had a half-hour conversation in Persian.”

“I just like talking with people,” he says. And as social chair of the Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgender Supporters Alliance, a member of the University Choir, and a tenor with the a cappella group Din & Tonics, Terrelonge has plenty of opportunities to socialize. Fluent in four languages and proficient in four others, he thought for a long time of becoming a translator, but now favors direct policy or diplomatic work for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. “It’s definitely a dream job, where I could have access to all the cultures and countries that I’m interested in,” he explains, “where I could travel a lot and meet lots of different people.”

His deepest cultural interest has been Iran, which has led him to fluency in Persian, leadership in the Harvard Persian Society, and a thesis on the influence of messianic prophesies on American and Iranian foreign policy. “Most Americans will never get to see much of Iran. It’s a very private place,” he asserts, but that fact is part of its allure. “I really like Persian, the rich literary tradition, the idiosyncrasies in the Iranian culture.” He plans to spend next year traveling there, before returning to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies.

~Casey Cep

 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
At Adams House, Katherine Wong finds relief from the academic rigors of College life.
 

Katherine Wong

Walking along Bow Street as a freshman, Katherine Wong was idly looking through the basement windows of Adams House—until she came to the corner of Arrow Street. “I don’t even remember why I was there,” she says, “but when I saw the prints on the wall, I did a double take. I looked again and saw the press equipment, then knocked on the window.”

Three years later, the neurobiology concentrator manages the Bow & Arrow Press, a small student-run printing facility. Some nights she opens it up to the entire Harvard community. “I love seeing the satisfaction in their faces as they pull their first print,” she says. Of helping her peers to set personal stationery, cards, poetry, and posters, Wong says, “I love making things and working with my hands….It is so important for me to have this creative and physical outlet. It also helps people forget about the pressures of schoolwork and do something that is creative, without deadlines, and that is not judged by anyone but themselves.”

At Harvard, she has expanded her creative interests on other fronts: taking photographs in Visual and Environmental Studies classes and planning ’90s dances, “Family Feuds,” and Harvard-Yale tailgates as a cochair of the Pforzheimer House Committee. She still regards letterpresses as a passion. But medicine, she says, is her calling: she spent last summer and the fall doing research at the Massachusetts General Hospital Alzheimer’s Disease Laboratory, using mice models to test antibody treatments for the disease.

 “Alzheimer’s affects the essence of the mind, the very essence of someone as a person. I’m interested in helping people cope with the disease,” Wong says. She hopes in time to use medicine creatively to comfort as well as to heal, so medical school is definitely in her future. But first she’s planning a post-graduation trip to Buenos Aires, to bone up on her Spanish and do a year-long apprenticeship at a cutting-edge press, Papelera Palermo, where she will learn book-binding, paper-making, and silk screening, and further her letterpress skills.

~C.C.

 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
Vivek Ramaswamy balances interests in politics, rap, and cellular biology.
 

Vivek Ramaswamy

From doubling as campus politico by day and rapper by night, to his thesis combining cellular biology and ethics, Vivek Ramaswamy is a student defined by apparent dichotomies.

 As a devoted libertarian in a decidedly liberal student body, Ramaswamy has remained an ideological minority during his College years, even while serving as chair of the Harvard Political Union and on the student advisory committee for the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. “Being in the minority, you get a better education because your views are constantly challenged,” he explains. “I’ve changed my opinions a lot over the past four years, but those I haven’t changed are all the stronger for it.” He also believes that finding a philosophy that’s consistent in its tenets is more important than determining a stance on issues on a point-by-point basis, which may explain his ease in slipping into his rapper alter ego, “Da Vek.”

During his freshman year at Harvard, the politically inclined Ramaswamy decided on a whim to audition to be the opening act of Busta Rhymes’s concert at Harvard. He did not nab the spot, but three years later he still raps occasionally in casual settings like open-mike nights in Cambridge and at Kirkland House social functions.

His academic interests are equally unusual. Linking his concentration in molecular and cellular biology with his passion for politics, he wrote a senior thesis on the bioethical issues associated with the creation of human-animal chimeras: living organisms currently being created from the cells of humans and animals. “I was shocked to see the sparse degree to which this had been investigated from an ethical perspective,” he reports. In proposing a thesis that bridged the gap between ethics and biology, he moved into uncharted territory in Harvard’s biology departments, but not in his own experience: “Many times, in policy discussions, there is the impression that these [social-science] issues are less rigorous than scientific issues,” he says, “but I want to bring that scientific inquiry to ethical questions as well.”

When he’s not on the podium, at the mike, or in the lab, Ramaswamy has played leading comedic roles over the years at South Asian cultural shows on campus. He was also chosen one of the three undergraduates on the student advisory group charged with communicating their peers’ opinions to the University’s presidential search committee. Although he’s deferring acceptances from the law schools at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford for a few years to work at QVT—a hedge fund in New York where he will focus on life-sciences investing—Ramaswamy remains engrossed in what lies ahead at Harvard. “The appointment of a new president brings attention to what we’re doing right and what we should be doing differently,” he says. “We should take this event and use it as an opportunity to improve this institution, and being a part of it is an opportunity I have been grateful for.”

~Emma Lind

 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
Although separated by age, Ann Riley (left) and Allie Gully have been “Best Buddies” for years.
 

Ann Riley

Annie Riley first saw the power of community-based learning when her older sister, Kate, who has Down Syndrome, was paired with a girl without disabilities through the Best Buddies program. “Seeing what that relationship did for her—they’re still good friends today—motivated me to want to make that connection happen for other people, too, and to help people understand disability issues,” says Riley.

During high school, she started two local Best Buddies chapters; as a freshman at Harvard, she joined the campus Best Buddies group (a Phillips Brooks House Association affiliate) and has had the same local “buddy” all through college. As the group’s director during her junior year, Riley partnered with the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics to run a successful voter-education and awareness event with all of the buddies—who are over 18 and “who should know what it means to vote and express their political voices”—and organized other campus-wide events to promote awareness of intellectual disabilities. “My goal during that year,” she says, “was to move beyond just being friends with our buddies and to become advocates and supporters” within the community at large.

Public service also motivated her to become vice president of the Undergraduate Council. “That work is all about serving other students and making a difference in their undergraduate experiences through things like advising and new social programming,” she notes. “It followed that I decided to write a senior thesis about something that could have an impact, and be purposeful within that community.” She has explored John Dewey’s philosophy of education and its relationship to various activity-based learning projects at Harvard.

Riley enrolled in one such project herself, on research for nonprofit organizations, as a sophomore; she worked with a marketing team and was exposed to challenges not addressed in classroom work. “I’ve had great lecturers and have enjoyed my classes at Harvard,” she says, “but sitting and listening can be a passive way to learn. Uncovering knowledge for yourself and experiencing learning within a community I think generates new curiosity, original ideas, and helps students feel like they are a part of something larger in the world than an academic setting. People have found that these courses teach them something that is transferable to many different contexts, widening the possibility for their own future growth.”

Riley’s tripartite interests in social service, community-based learning, and disabilities helped secure a Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship to live next year in the Seychelles—an island chain in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa. She plans to work with a nonprofit group that teaches and promotes hands-on learning and activities related to environmental conservation in local schools. It will also be a year to take stock of all she has learned and done while at Harvard, and to figure out her next step. “Will I do a lot of volunteer work for organizations but have a separate job, or is public service going to be something I devote my whole life to? I don’t know,” she says. “But it will definitely be an important part of who I am for a very long time.”                             

~E.L.

 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
A student business leader, Tracy Britt plans to cross the river this fall.
 

Tracy Britt

Tracy Britt may be on the fast track to Wall Street, but her roots are firmly planted in Manhattan—Kansas—where she grew up on Britt’s Garden Acres, her family’s farm. She has since held internships at Bank of America, at Lehman Brothers, and also at 85 Broads—and served as president of Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business (HUWIB). But it is her modest background, she says, that formed the high-achiever she is today.

 “Every minute that I had to work on the farm, I hated it,” she says, recalling days when her friends were hanging out and she was stuck on the phone negotiating with fruit and vegetable distributors. “I thought this was an environment I never wanted to be in again. But it actually shaped my dedication, my work ethic, and the way I follow through on the commitments I have made.” She also credits this early exposure to the real world of commerce—she helped manage the wholesale and retail-sales ends of the business—with her success at Harvard itself, because she arrived in Cambridge without the rigorous academic training most undergraduates acquire in high school.

Britt joined HUWIB and its fundraising committee as a freshman, but continued to work at the farm during the summers until, as a rising junior, she opted to intern at 85 Broads in New York City. There a young woman from the hedge-fund industry took Britt under her wing. “She provided me with the guidance necessary to navigate the industry, as well as the insight and confidence to be successful in finance,” says Britt. “In an industry dominated by males, it is hard to break in if you don’t know somebody or aren’t the type of person to get out there and push in.”

Aware that many women in finance lacked the mentoring she had enjoyed, Britt and fellow HUWIB member Teresa Hsiao ’07 founded Smart Woman Securities during the fall of their senior year. The goal of SWS, which has 60 members, is twofold: the fall is spent in weekly seminars on investing strategies, which also involve dividing group members into teams to research companies and choose the likeliest options; in the spring, members test their predictions by investing money from a privately donated fund. “Women are coming into more influence [in the financial arena] than they have had historically, and SWS provides them with education in college that allows them to grow and succeed in the future,” Britt explains. She and Hsiao plan to open SWS chapters on other campuses by 2009 and would like to see it grow into a national organization.

Meanwhile, as president of HUWIB in 2006, Britt oversaw mentoring programs, professional panels, educational trips, and conferences for 400 members. And as cochair of the Women’s Leadership Project (a weeklong conference for high-schoolers), she shared some of her goals, experiences, and determination with an even younger group of women.

In the fall, Britt will attend Harvard Business School, where she plans to maintain her Midwestern sensibility. “Growing up in Kansas is very different from growing up in Boston and the Northeast,” she says. “Many people come here knowing they’ve wanted to go to Harvard since they were eight years old. Looking back, I realize how lucky and fortunate I am to be here.”

~E.L.


 

Photograph by Stu Rosner
Mark Musico takes a seat out front—for a change.
 

Mark Musico

“The teasing about my last name never ends,” says Mark Musico. “I have to promise people that it’s not a stage name.” And with 30 hours a week in rehearsal time—and 14 shows to his credit—Musico has no problem living up to it.

“Before Harvard, music and theater were really one-dimensional, but the community here introduced me to social, intellectual, even practical dimensions of art that I’d never imagined,” he says. That introduction to the Harvard arts community came through the weeklong Freshman Arts Program (FAP, which takes place just before classes start in September), which he subsequently returned to as a proctor. “During FAP,” he says, “I realized I would be making art for the next four years.”

 “Music started as a chore for me, the thing that my parents made me do,” he says of childhood piano lessons. “But it has become an emotional outlet, a place to focus all of my energies.” The philosophy concentrator has studied music perception and cognition in the classroom, but has experienced all the facets of musical theater through his extracurriculars: composing, conducting, performing in, and serving as the musical or vocal director for numerous shows on campus and four professional productions with the Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston. Most recently, he composed the score for The Tent Commandments, the 159th Hasty Pudding Theatricals musical. But his favorite show will always be Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods—his first high-school production.

“A lot of what I’m doing at Harvard is a steppingstone to get back to where I want to be,” the exuberant Musico says patiently of his studies. His next step may seem unlikely—in the fall, he plans to start the joint J.D./M.F.A. program in theater management at Columbia Law School. “While I thought about pursuing a career in performance, I’ve realized now that life would be too limiting for me,” he says. “I want to be connected to the arts community I love, supporting artists and art, but I want to use art to effect change beyond the theater, to change our society and the world.”

~C.C.


Berta Greenwald Ledecky Undergraduate Fellows Casey Cep and Emma Lind faced the daunting task of having to choose only six seniors to profile.