I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a city of many names: "Heart of the Commonwealth," "Wormtown," "The Woo," and “Paris of the 80s,” to name a few. I loved growing up in Worcester, but learned quickly that most other people did not share my positive view of the city. Over the years I’ve become an expert at countering negative comments about Worcester with a bit of “Woo-town” trivia and a smile.
In Worcester, I was raised by a single mother who instilled in me a love for learning and a deep appreciation for the advantages I had been given. We didn’t have much money growing up, but my mother made sure that my brother and I had everything we needed for school, and supplemented that with lessons from Worcester itself. She would take us driving around the city to look at the historic buildings in town. We visited the Worcester Art Museum and went to summer concerts in the parks. When my mother volunteered to serve on the Cultural Commission, we learned about which buildings were being defended by Preservation Worcester. My high school was a microcosm of the city itself; it was filled with different languages and cultures from which I learned daily. Doherty Memorial High School, like Worcester itself, had a rough reputation but seemed to me a beautiful place once you looked past some of the dirt or faded paint.
When I arrived as a freshman at Harvard, I experienced a bit of culture shock. I did not know what The New Yorker was, or that Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg was a woman (quick tip: try not to accidentally reveal that in a constitutional law class). I had lived my whole life in Massachusetts and suddenly was surrounded by people who seen much more of the world than I had. Like the many others who have found themselves in this situation, I quickly learned a new vocabulary and began to settle in to new habits. Over my four years, I had a great experience at Harvard. I made wonderful friends, traveled internationally for the first time, and had my worldview broadened more than I thought possible.
Over my years in Cambridge, I kept a lot of Worcester in my heart. Early in my time at Harvard, I heard the jokes my classmates made about Worcester as a put-down. I felt anxious that my family would make too much of a fuss over the University when they visited. Now it is strange to remember feeling that way. Contrary to viewing my background as a weakness, I view it as a strength. Growing up in Worcester taught me to see opportunity in raw spaces and be innovative with respect to education. Worcester taught me to seek out and celebrate diverse viewpoints and cultures. Worcester taught me how to reveal beauty to people where they can't yet see it. Worcester taught me that sometimes you can find the best things hidden in plain sight if you keep an open mind.
Most days, I carry my things around in a Worcester tote bag. It serves to let others know where I’m from, but more importantly, it reminds me of these lessons and keeps me moving toward my goals in a Worcester frame of mind.
Posted by: Kristina Latino