The 2015 Senior Perspectives is the 10th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
For a complete listing of 2015 Senior Perspectives, click here.
Laura Aguilar, Women's Soccer
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
House Affiliation: Winthrop
Team meeting. Junior year. When asked to reflect on my time as a student-athlete at Harvard, my mind immediately went there. That particular day our coach, Ray Leone, switched up his traditional motivational appeals to something he thought could speak to the “Harvard” in all of us. Instead of quoting a famous athlete or showing an inspirational video montage, he cited research by Angela Duckworth, a MacArthur Genius Grant winner and psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She had a theory for the key to success.
Her research said success and achievement boil down to one trait: “grit,” the passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. To be gritty is to have stamina. It’s committing to your future day in and day out, knowing that success does not come overnight but only through sustained determination and resolve.
Professor Duckworth defined what we have lived and breathed as student-athletes at Harvard. The fruits of our grit are obvious. Our successes can be quantified in the number of Ivy League championships we have won, the number of NCAA tournament appearances we’ve earned, and even the lengths of our unbeaten streaks. But these numbers leave out a critical part of our story: the passion and commitment it takes to actually make it into the record books.
As a member of the Harvard women’s soccer team I was reminded every day of what it means to have grit by a sign that hangs on our locker room door. It’s a team tradition to hit it as we walk out to the field from our pre-game meeting. Two words, five letters, it reads: “All In.”
All in means sliding in the mud and pouring rain to save a ball no one thought you could reach. All in means walking through the snow to practice before class instead of rolling over and hitting the snooze button. It means studying for your upcoming exam on the midnight bus ride back from a long weekend of travel. All in feels like sore muscles and tastes like sweat when you’re lining up for one more sprint when you’d do anything just to stop. All in is giving everything you have to the sport, and when you think you can give no more, it’s digging deeper to find the energy to give even more to your teammates. It’s what makes victory sweet and it’s also what makes the disappointments—the losses, the reduced playing time, the injuries—so heartbreaking.
Toward the end of my senior season I suffered a concussion that kept me on the sidelines for four weeks. I was devastated. I had given soccer my all and with just one tackle it seemed like my soccer career would end far sooner than I had expected. I checked in with my trainer, Andrei Tarsici, every day to see if I could play in the upcoming week’s game. The answer was not what I had hoped to hear. My recovery was taking longer than I had thought it would.
It was so unfair, I thought. After two knee surgeries, a dozen sprained ankles, and the countless hours I had committed to soccer over the course of my life, I should not have to spend the last month of my senior year off the field. This should not be the way I end my soccer career. When I expressed these thoughts to Andrei, he just looked me in the eyes and said, “fortitude.” I am deeply grateful for Andrei’s support through my concussion as well as through all my various injuries. My daily exchange with him was a constant reminder of all the lessons I had learned as a student-athlete at Harvard, lessons that I could never have learned in the classroom alone. It takes “fortitude,” strength of mind in the face of adversity, to stop dwelling on how things “should or shouldn’t be” and instead have the resolve to say, “I can and I will get through this.” It was fortitude that helped me get through that difficult month.
I was able to rejoin my teammates on the field in time for the first round of the NCAA tournament, and in that game I ended up scoring a goal, my first of the season. Though it was the sixth goal of the game, my teammates cheered loudly and rushed me as though I had just scored a golden goal. To me, the goal was golden. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life not because I scored, but because of the outpouring of support from my teammates: those who understood the meaning of being all in—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
I am sad to be leaving Harvard, but I am emboldened and excited for my future because of the life-long friends I have found in my teammates and the lessons I have learned here as a student-athlete. I am ready to jump “all in” to a new chapter of my life with grit and fortitude.