Written Senior Perspective - Grace Chao, Women's Rugby

Photo by Gil Talbot
Photo by Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th 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.

Grace Chao
Mather House
Harvard Women's Rugby
Concentration: Economics

As I sat down to write this reflection, my eyes traversed the well-worn lines of a Theodore Roosevelt quote affixed above my dorm desk. A rower and boxer in his days at Harvard, the 26th President once wrote that, “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause – his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Roosevelt omits no rhetorical flourishes in this dramatic statement. These lines surge with power and passion for me as a rugby player because I can so clearly see my teammates’ uniforms, our bodies and our very faces covered with mud, blood, and sweat every time I read them. Rugby is an intensely intimate sport in this way, where players engage in what is functionally hand-to-hand combat in an open field in the elements, literally linked together with comrades-in-arms against a common enemy.

In such battles, this team and this senior class has known the greatest happiness and enthusiasms that Roosevelt describes. This year, we raised the Ivy League championship trophy not once, but twice, a feat which scarcely seemed possible when we arrived here as freshmen. But with what patient care, relentless effort, and passionate devotion did the Class of 2019 build up this fledgling program, especially our senior captains in their time here!

In truth, though, the hardest days, the most difficult conversations, the most challenging decisions far outnumbered the championships and triumphs. So, how is it that we shall look back on such an athletic experience with gratitude, fondness, and authentic joy considering that reality? I chafe to lean on cliché here, but the time we spent on the rugby team truly refined and built up our character, our confidence and our abilities as leaders. None of us are the same person we were when we first stepped onto the pitch for our first practice as freshmen, which we could only realize as we stepped off the pitch for the last time as seniors.

Nothing was quite so formative as the opportunity to wager our very selves on the field, with victory and defeat hanging in the balance not merely as abstractions, but as visceral possibilities. We know in our heart of hearts that winning or losing any particular rugby game will not matter very much in the grand scheme of our lives, and our sport is still not the most important priority for us at Harvard. But, for a few hours every Saturday, we are permitted to imagine ourselves going into battle, and we cast ourselves as heroes and heroines in an epic poem. These adventures, to borrow from James Joyce, allow us to “pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion,” which will make Harvard shine even brighter in our memories.