The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th 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.
Kent Haeffner, Men's Swimming & Diving
Hometown:Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
House Affiliation: Quincy House
As student-athletes at Harvard, we all walked onto Harvard’s campus our freshman year with a range of emotions running through our guts. On one hand, there was a deep-seated inner fear that we all have of the unknown. On the other hand, there was a sense of unbridled anticipation of the new chapter in our lives that was about to begin.
And now, as we near the end of our time at Harvard, the anxiety has been washed away. It’s been replaced with a sense that Harvard is where we belong. Every time we see one of our teammates’ faces, we’re filled with a feeling that I can only describe as happiness. Why is that? What changed?
Well, think what has happened to us since that warm August day four years ago. People who we had never met before, from all walks of life and from every corner of the earth, with every interest and personality type imaginable, united in a common cause, have become our family. Now when we were recruited here most of us probably thought that the common cause was to perform well athletically and to do well in school. And while yes, those are fantastic goals that we do indeed share and do an incredible job at achieving, the true purpose of an athletic team at Harvard is not just trophies and transcripts; its true purpose to be a band of brothers or sisters whose chief end is to elevate each another into the best human beings we can possibly be.
I experienced the power a team can have on a very personal level during my senior year. Coming off of a summer where I didn’t swim hardly at all due to a demanding internship, I wasn’t in great shape and the prospects of best times for me were slim to none. But every day when I came into practice, every single guy on my team motivated me and brought me joy. The banter of the distance group, the jokes we’d tell each other before practice, the smiles on guy’s faces, the words of encouragement that so many of my teammates gave me, they all made a difference. I couldn’t have had the swims I did or the fun that I had without every single person on Harvard men’s swimming and diving. They all made a difference to our team, whether they realized it or not.
For my classmates and me, although this chapter in our lives is about to come to an end, that does not mean our friendships are over. During Commencement Week my freshman spring, our coach sent an email to the team asking anyone who was still on campus to come down to Blodgett Pool to swim with some alumni. They were members of the Class of 1965 who wanted to swim a race against current members of the team. At the ripe old age of 72, they put together a 5-man relay team going up against three current members of the team and me. What really amazed me about this whole experience was the conversation we had with those alumni afterwards. Even 50 years after being on the team, they were trading stories and making fun of each other as if the events they were talking about had taken place a week ago. They talked about how they helped a guy on a track team finagle Harvard’s swim test, about how David Abramson broke the NCAA record but was disqualified because Mike Gaffin was so excited he jumped in the water, and about beating Yale for the first time in 24 years during their freshman year. What I saw in those five men were lifelong friends whose relationship stretched far beyond the confines of four years. What I saw was indeed a band of brothers.
If there is one truth I have learned from my time as a student-athlete at Harvard, it is this: that the most important things in life, aren’t things, they’re people and the relationships you have them. It is a truth that I will carry with me forever and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Harvard men’s swimming and diving as it has taught me this and so many other valuable lessons. These truly were the most wonderful four years of my life.