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Will Morris IV: We should learn from good people who work hard
Will Morris.jpg
Will Morris IV

Four and a half years ago, I moved into Pforzheimer House, or “Pfoho”, one of Harvard University’s 12 residential houses.

I was with a group of students in the dining hall, feverishly philosophizing about some topic. We had been going on for over an hour and a half, having long since finished our food.

Our dishes and silverware lay all over the table as we debated.

“Guys, dinner time has been ovah for 30 minutes, put yah trays up, whatsthamattah with you?” A sharp, heavily-Northern accent cut through our conversation. 

I turned my head to see a short, middle-aged woman in a dining hall worker’s uniform wiping down the other end of the table. Since I was new to Pfoho, I had never seen this woman before.

“Sorry about that Patti; we lost track of time,” an older student in our group said as he stood up. The rest of us followed him, bowing our heads sheepishly. The woman shook her head as she wiped up the bits of food where we had been sitting.

I didn’t speak much to Patti for the rest of that year. Packing my schedule to the brim, I was rarely in Pfoho, and besides, after our first interaction I was nervous around her. After finishing that year, having thoroughly burned myself out, I took the next year and a half off of school. During that time, I would often worry about reintegrating back into college life.

Never once did I imagine how important Patti would be for me when I got back.

Coming back to campus was even more disorienting than I had imagined. All of my close friends had already graduated and everyone else had moved on. Because of this, I spent much more time in Pfoho and often spent time talking with dining hall staff and security guards, some of the few people I recognized after returning to campus.

At first Patti and I would just speak in passing, but gradually over the next few semesters we began to have real conversations. She talked to me about her childhood in the projects in Cambridge. Another time she told me that while she does not have any kids, she is the rock for her extended family. Finally, she informed me that she has a condition that causes intense chronic pain while she works.

As I got to know Patti, I realized that I had not only misjudged her; I had failed to see that she is one of the strongest women I know.

I would rely upon Patti’s strength during my last semester. Already overwhelmed with my senior thesis, one afternoon I received the most devastating news of my life. Shell-shocked, I stumbled around the entire day without any idea of what I was doing, until somehow I made it back to the dining hall.

“Will, whatsthamattah with you?” a voice rang out. Patti walked toward me, scowling in what I had come to realize is her way of showing concern. Trying to smile, I replied, “Nothing, Patti.”

“Cut the crap kid, I know somethin’s the wrong, I can see it in your eyes.”

Tears then began to well up and my lip began to quiver. Patti’s eyes widened. She had seen me stressed before, but nothing like this.

“Alright, tell ya what,” she said. “I live nearby. Get a change of clothes and come to my place. We can talk about it.”

That night, Patti stayed up past 2 a.m. to speak with me while I told her everything. Not only did she listen, she related my experiences with her own. Finally, I was calm enough to fall asleep on her couch.

After we drove back to campus the next morning, Patti hugged me and said, “If ya ever need to talk, kiddo, I’m always here.” From then on, we talked every day. She invited me to her family’s house up in Connecticut’s White Mountains for Thanksgiving and went to my graduation ceremony last December.

She told me that I am the son she never had. I began to call her my “school mom.”

I met a lot of people at Harvard. Many powerful people send their kids there, and I spoke with professors, CEOs, even a former president. But none helped me grow more than Patti.

For much of my life, I’ve focused on achievement. But lately I’ve wondered: does our world really need another person who will sacrifice anything to achieve his definition of “greatness?” I don’t think so.

Now more than ever, we all need to  stop idealizing the egotistical people we see on TV and social media. Instead, let’s try to learn  from the people who work hard, help others and retain their goodness even when life isn’t easy for them — people like Patti.

Will Morris IV is a graduate of Gainesville High School and recent graduate of Harvard University, where he studied history, East Asian studies and government.