While recently wandering the streets of Cambridge, MA, just across the Charles River from Boston, I made my way to the threshold of Harvard University, often sited as one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, founded in 1636.
At the south end of Harvard’s campus, on Massachusetts Avenue stands Dexter Gate—a stone arched walkway that sneaks quietly under Wigglesworth Hall. This entrance serves as the eye of the needle into Harvard Yard—the heart of Harvard University.
But for all of its foot traffic, few students or visitors notice the carved inscription above the gate as you enter into this Mecca of Higher Learning,
Enter to Grow in Wisdom
As I roamed the colorful yard, painted by the tip of Autumn’s brush, gazing upon the buildings surrounding this beautiful centerpiece, I contemplated this place as the temporal home to some of the most influential leaders and thinkers since the enlightenment. Great men and women who had entered the hallowed halls of her academia—a host of United States and International Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Dignitaries, Lawyers, Authors, Poets, and Business Leaders. (It was also here that FaceBook was conceived to the delight of us contemporary learners).
As I stood at the statue of John Harvard, reaching for my iPhone to make a status update, gather some information about Mr. Harvard and the history of the university, a funny thought struck me. I pondered what he might think of the device that I, and the many people standing around me in Harvard Yard at that moment, held in our hands. Like an ephinay that Emerson or Eliot might have had in this very yard, I sensed the merging of classic learning with contemporary learning.
No longer, are we, as leaners’ subject to pass through the eye of a needle to take the first steps towards wisdom. No longer, are we, as learners’ bound by time or space to gather information, dissect it, test it, and even apply it. Higher learning is evolving, literary, right before our eyes, and our own Harvard Yard is in our hands!
With the dawn of new technology, the internet, Wi-Fi (wireless local area networks), and mobile computing, has emerged the Information Age—a new era in commerce and education that is driven by the information and knowledge that is now at our finger tips. With each new iteration of computing devices, we are rapidly evolving the way we work and play—the way we learn.
However, translating information and knowledge into wisdom remains the essence of the challenge offered over Dexter Gate. While we now have that information readily available to us, and a host of ways to apply that information, there still remains a great task at hand. The same task that inspired John Harvard to donate a large sum of money to Newtowne College (later named Harvard College)—the desire to “advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity.”
When leaving the campus into the streets of Cambridge, I made my way back to Dexter Gate. And this time, looking out toward the city, was this inscription,
Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.
And so it remains, at this cross roads of the classic and the contemporary, it requires action to advance learning into posterity. Higher learning is not about ascending up a mythological mount, it is about going out and into the world to apply what we have learned at our own personal Harvard Yard. We do not remember all of the great people who attended Harvard for entering into a campus or buildings; but rather, we remember them for what they were able to achieve after they passed back through the eye of the needle and into the world, apply what they learned in the buildings surrounding Harvard Yard.
Today, we have that same opportunity, without the need to depart; because we are already there. The wisdom is within us, and it is all about us, and we are always ready to serve thy kind.
Jason Diamond Arnold is a Learning Media Consulting Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies in San Diego, CA, and is the Co-author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning programmed designed to help individuals develop personal strengths while collaborating with others for success.