Written Senior Perspective - Akweley Okine, Women's Rugby

Photo by Gil Talbot
Photo by Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.

Akweley Okine
Hometown: Westchester, Pa.
Concentration: Social Studies
House Affiliation: Pforzheimer

At a team meeting during my freshman year, one of the seniors on the team made a comment about how being a teammate is different from being a friend. When she first said that I don’t think I really understood what she meant. What I thought she meant was that being a teammate was, in some ways, one step lower than being a friend. I thought she meant that as an insult. I thought it was her way of saying that we didn’t all have to be friends with each other, and it was enough to be just teammates. It’s taken me four years on the Harvard women’s rugby team to understand the true meaning of that senior’s words—that being a teammate to someone is so much more than being their friend.

At the core of the teammate commitment is a dedication and obligation that exists regardless of how you might personally feel about your teammate. In committing to be a part of the team—you’re also committing to be a good teammate to each and every person on your team. I’ve learned that being a good teammate is not easy; it is something that requires a lot of work, a lot of love, and, ultimately, a lot of sacrifices. My teammates have always been the individuals that are most willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and sleep to meet common team goals, but also to help someone complete their homework, practice extra skills, or seek out the help that they need.

My teammates have also been the people who have pushed me to grow the most on this campus. Though they are the people who are most willing to support me and love me despite my flaws, they also are the people who refuse to expect less of me. My teammates won’t allow me to be lazy. They challenge me to be the best version of myself for the sake of the team and for the sake of myself. Instead of letting me be content with where I am, they push me to grow by expecting that I’ll be a better person tomorrow than I am today. This combination of unconditional love and high expectations requires so much from them—and it’s not something that they can walk away from when they get tired. To walk away from an individual is to walk away from the entire team.

I’ve seen this in the way that my teammates helped me through a mental block with learning a new skill. My junior year, I was asked to learn how to inbound the ball in a line-out—a skill I had never practiced before. My teammates were supportive of my learning process, but they also continued to push me to get better at the skill and work with them until it became one of my strongest skills. Instead of giving up on me at the beginning of my learning process, one of my teammates spent countless hours of her time working with me before or after practice. She was patient, she was understanding, and she found ways to support my growth that worked best for me.

Throughout my years at Harvard, I’ve had some friends who have chosen to walk away. I’ve had some friends who haven’t pushed me to be a better version of myself. I’ve had some friends who disappeared and reappeared in my life at times that were convenient to them. My teammates have always been the most consistent presence in my life. My teammates are a group of individuals who are so bought in to the team and the people who comprise it that by the time you leave the team, you’re a better person than when you joined it. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to have been supported, loved, and changed by this group of people. In getting to experience this form of dedication and love, I’ve learned how a teammate is different than a friend. But, as my time playing for Harvard comes to a close, I think I’ve also learned how to demand the things that teammates demand of me for myself. In leaving my team, I’m hoping that the team is in a better place than when I came to it; but I know that I’m a better person for having been on it.