How Firm a Foundation

Cara Jacobson '18The MemChurch community helped Cara Jacobson ’18 develop the compassion, empathy, and self-confidence she needed to tackle new challenges.

With the help of a little fairy dust, Cara Jacobson’s musical career was launched in elementary school. A 2018 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in human evolutionary biology, Cara was cast as Wendy in her fifth-grade class’s production of Peter Pan.

Exhibiting not even a hint of stage fright, Cara found herself enraptured by the drama and the music. With the help of a harness and the strong arms of her father at work behind the curtain, Cara was given the enviable chance of levitating across the stage, her arms outstretched as she soared off to Neverland.

During high school, Cara and her father traveled every Saturday from their home on Long Island to New York City’s Manhattan School of Music where Cara studied voice and opera.

As a freshman at Harvard, Cara was overwhelmed with the plethora of extracurricular activities. An audition for a play through Common Casting proved disastrous, and the various clubs she tried were not good fits.


Listen to Cara Jacobson ’18 speak at Morning Prayers


But eventually, Cara, who is Jewish, found a home in the very last place she expected to find one: at church.  

Urged by her mother to “keep an open mind,” Cara had auditioned for the Harvard University Choir. After her first Sunday service as a member of the choir, she was forced to admit that her mother had been right.

“Not only had I joined an exceptional choir,” says Cara, “but, as a member of Harvard Memorial Church, I had also joined an exceptional community.”

Harvard Memorial Church quickly became Cara’s second home. For the next four years, she continued to sing with the choir, serving as secretary during her senior year. 

After a rigorous audition process, she was selected to serve as one of sixteen Choral Fellows during her junior and senior years. Choral Fellows perform five mornings a week during the Morning Prayers services in Appleton Chapel, continuing a tradition as old as Harvard.

But Cara sought out the MemChurch community for more than just music. When it came time to write her senior thesis, Cara ensconced herself in the church’s newly renovated Student Oasis, appreciating the comfortable, familial atmosphere in which she was greeted by name every time she walked through the door. 

Cara’s thesis drew from the nine weeks of field research she conducted in the Ugandan rainforest last summer. Every day, Cara trailed baboons in their natural habitat, recording data on their activities for an hour at a time per animal. It was a tough assignment that required Cara to navigate bushy, near-impenetrable terrain and to live without hot showers, toilets, or running water. It was also very socially isolating.

Cara JacobsonCara Jacobson ’18, Harvard University Choir Secretary, conducted field research on baboons in the Ugandan rainforest last summer for her senior thesis project.  

But Cara had the strength of community behind her. All the hours she had spent at Harvard Memorial Church in the company of trusted faculty mentors and a close-knit group of peers had helped build her confidence and solidify her identity. She belonged to them and they to her, and she drew from the strength of this bond when the long hours of research grew tedious and the pangs of homesickness grew acute.

Cara will next head for San Francisco, where she will begin a new job as a management consultant before eventually pursuing business or law school. Once again, the terrain will be new and unfamiliar, and once again Cara will draw upon the self-confidence she developed at MemChurch and the empathy and compassion in response to life’s injustices that she saw modeled by members of the church community.

“Harvard Memorial Church embodies the best aspects of a community,” says Cara. “It is the warmest and most inviting space on campus. It has taught me what it means to be a member of a loving community, and how to be a loving member in return. I intend to emulate the ideals of love and compassion that we have learned and practiced here.”

~ Dawn Kotapish