My Leave of Absence

Two lines have come to define my college experience. My college dean, Rakesh Khurana, delivered the first one at our freshman orientation: “College is not a stop on the way to the rest of your life; this is your life.”

I heard the second from a visiting professor over dinner my freshman spring: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Both sayings have been particularly true for me in 2016. For the first time in the last 16 years, I won’t be back in a classroom the first week of September.

I’m taking a leave of absence from Harvard to keep working on Upsolve, a nonprofit I started with my mentor Professor Jim Greiner in February.

When I turned 20 this past January 3rd, I had no idea what the year would entail.

But I did know two things.

First, I didn’t want 2016 to be another building block, another series of strategic decisions and experiences that would help me get to another goal. I wanted to get on with my life and, to me, that meant finding a way to help people who needed help the most.

Second, I knew I wanted to take a risk. I wanted to find a way to add value to the world through creativity and hard work. I wanted to build something out of nothing that would push me to my absolute limits — beyond any challenge I could expect in the classroom.

That’s why I feel so lucky to have found something I care so much about in Upsolve.

In late July, a thought occurred to me on my walk home in Brooklyn. I really couldn’t ask for more from life. I’m working on a problem I care about and find interesting. I’m able to think about what I want to do each day and do it. My best friends are never hard to reach. And I’m in a city I’ve come to love. I’ve never been more content.

At the same time, I’m hungry. Very hungry. My co-founder Jonathan and I have a chance to change how Americans interact with a centuries-old institution. And we’re doing everything we can not to miss it.

Looking back, the version of myself I knew before college would never have thought to step off the pre-defined path I had set for myself, heavily influenced by the paths of my peers. Now I have.

I’ve also developed a new goal for the rest of my life. It’s to always have compelling answers to two questions. First, “What are you doing in the world that nobody else is doing?” Second, “How are you helping other people?”

The most valuable thing I’ve gained from college are my close friends. Numbers two and three are a heightened sense of restlessness and the confidence to pursue my own ideas.

I’ll always be grateful for how Harvard has changed me, and I look forward to my return. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2016 has in store.

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