Chock, Bates awestruck by Harvard campusTwo-time world medalists tour Ivy League school after worlds
Harvard University has boasted a fondness for figure skaters for a long time. Two-time Olympic champion Dick Button was a student at Harvard while he competed, as was Olympic medalist Paul Wylie. Olympian Emily Hughes graduated from Harvard recently, and current undergraduates include skaters Christina Gao, Harrison Choate, Yasmin Siraj, Vanessa Lam, Maria Kalina and Brian Krentz.
Harvard hosts a stellar lineup of skaters every year at the Evening with Champions benefit show, and one of the perks for the participants is staying in a Harvard dorm and hanging out on the campus. Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates have not skated in the show yet, and they had never seen Harvard.
The ice dancers jumped at the chance for a tour of Harvard with Choate after they had finished competing at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Undaunted by the rain on Saturday, we headed over the Charles River, across Massachusetts Avenue and entered Harvard Yard through the Porcellian Gate. This brick arch is presided over by the ferocious tusked boar mascot of the elite Porcellian Club across the street. Harvard Yard, surrounded by a graceful brick wall, is filled with old brick dorms where all of the university's freshmen live, along with several libraries and a few administrative buildings.
The first stop in the Yard was the famous bronze statue of John Harvard, known as the Statue of Three Lies. Choate explained that the inscription on the statue is completely wrong. It reads "JOHN HARVARD, FOUNDER, 1638." Harvard was founded in 1636, not by John Harvard, and the young man depicted is not John Harvard.
Chock and Bates said that their impressions of Harvard, and all the Ivy League, come mostly from popular culture. Bates mentioned Good Will Hunting and The Social Network, in which Harvard played a prominent role in both. The Social Network, in fact, has scenes in front of the statue and inside the entrance of the Porcellian.
"I've never seen an Ivy League school before. I've only seen them in movies really," Chock said. "There's more to it, seeing the whole campus at once. You get more of a feel of the history."
Bates' dad went to an Ivy League university.
"I've only ever been to Princeton, to visit for my dad's reunion," he said. "My initial impression of Harvard is that it makes me kind of want to go back to college. Being on the campus, surrounded by young minds, you get the sense that something special is going on here. They're obviously brilliant and it's kind of an inspiring environment to be around."
Bates went to the University of Michigan, getting his bachelor's degree in 2013. Chock is taking art courses at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan.
We walked over to Harvard's oldest building: Massachusetts Hall, built circa 1720. We couldn't go in, but we were able to enter charming Holden Chapel, which is only some 20 years "newer."
From Holden, we crossed out of the Yard and entered the imposing Memorial Hall, built in the 1870s to honor the Harvard students and graduates who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Choate took us to a second floor balcony overlooking Annenberg Hall, the dining hall for freshmen. The enormous chandelier-lit space has a distinct vibe of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, and Chock and Bates loved it.
"This is my favorite place so far," Chock said. "It's beautiful. The stained glass!"
From Memorial Hall we re-entered the Yard and climbed the massive stone steps in front of Widener Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. It was built with funds donated by Eleanor Widener in memory of her son Harry, who died on the Titanic. The building is much bigger than it appears, with four floors underground that stretch across the Yard.
Chock and Bates were awestruck by the size and beauty of the building. Sheltering from the rain in the vestibule, Chock's first question was, "I wonder if they have any books about figure skating?"
We headed down to see a couple of the River Houses, where most of the upperclassmen live. Near Eliot House, we bumped into Emily Hughes. Hughes had been watching worlds and going to some events, and, of course, she wanted to visit her alma mater. She said her favorite memories of her time at Harvard were the friends she made.
"I met so many interesting people that I still consider my closest friends," Hughes said. "Also, the great legacy that Evening with Champions has made in skating and Harvard. I feel so fortunate that I'm able to still be a part of it, to come back to Harvard and raise money for the Jimmy Fund."
An Evening With Champions was founded at Eliot House in 1970, when the 1971 U.S. champion John Misha Petkevich was living there as an undergraduate. Chock and Bates both said they hope to skate in the show some day and have a chance to see Harvard again. Hopefully on a nice sunny day.
The skaters were still a little tired from the whirlwind that is the world championships, but they were very happy to have been part of a historic night of ice dance, when two U.S. teams won medals and all three couples finished in the top six.
"I feel even more sore than I did while we were competing," Chock said. "I think my body is still coming down. But I'm very happy with how it went -- pretty elated with how we skated. It felt amazing to be out on the ice; the audience was incredible."
"I think U.S. Figure Skating has just done an incredible job with putting on the world championships," Bates said. "It's certainly the best worlds that I've ever been to, and talking to other skaters and officials, everyone has said the same, that it's just been an incredible event. It makes me really proud to skate for U.S. Figure Skating, to see what they've accomplished this week."
After they had seen some, but not all, of Harvard, Chock and Bates were pretty impressed.
"I would definitely go here, if I got in!" Bates said.
"Yes, if I got in," agreed Chock. "It's a bit intimidating, but I am in awe of this campus. It's beautiful."
"Memorial Hall was pretty special, seeing the names on the walls and the historical significance of it," Bates said.
The tour was over, but Chock popped into Mike's Pastry shop to pick up some goodies to share with the many family members who came to Boston to see her skate. Then the skaters could get out of the rain and back to the arena to cheer on the ladies.