"My Experience in the Academy": A Reflection Piece by Mana Afsari

There is nowhere else like it at the University of Southern California; there is nowhere else like it anywhere. There you’ll find poet-laureates and producers, high-ranking cabinet members domestic and international, AI researchers and artists, congresswomen and CIA directors, four-star generals and political activists, and the students who engage with them as peers. The Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study hosts lectures, conversations, and roundtables— all captivating, all unabashedly enthusiastic, and all with an abundance of complimentary food and drink. 

My most metamorphic—that is to say, transformative—experiences have started there, in that sunlit and wood-paneled room. From a roundtable of ten students and two world-renowned poets, I found myself in Athens months later, studying poetry and translating the verses of refugee women with a MacArthur Fellow. At the Academy, I and so many others have enjoyed tea and sandwiches with General David Petraeus, long-serving Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Dana Gioia, former Home Secretary and Labour Party politician Charles Clarke, and more Guggenheim Fellows than I can reasonably name here. 

Every student who finds their way here becomes known and appreciated, and like fate, it all unfolds from there. Enthusiastic students rapidly find their lives changed by once-in-a-lifetime encounters with not just those particularly prestigious polymaths, but through the moments of pondering and provocation their fellow student-polymaths and professors offer. The Academy belongs to seekers, ever-searching for an education fueled by love and fed by experiences both concrete and cerebral. 

The Harman Academy has taken so many of us to the farthest reaches and highest perches in the world, but even there, most of us—whether alumni of the Academy or current students away for the summer or semester—find ourselves missing the relationships and collaborations we found in our home in Doheny. I owe much of what I am—and will be—to those people. In just two years, I’ve worked in publishing in Manhattan, interpreted for refugees in Greece, and now am studying Classics at the University of Cambridge—all by way of the Academy. Now, go find your way there.

Mana Afsari is a senior studying Classics and minoring in Muscial Theatre and Iranian Studies. She is presently studying abroad at Cambridge.