|- text and toons by Crack|
I'm about to admit something - something I haven't told many people - and I'm going to say it to the whole Grumble community and the World Wide Web to boot: (deep breath) I, "Crack", went to Harvard.
Notice in that moment, the slew of thoughts that the tiny little voice inside your head decided to throw my way?
[ Note: If you are right now going, "What little voice inside my head? I don't have a little voice inside my head! Crack must be cracked and maybe she has a little voice inside her head..." and you didn't say it aloud, well, then that's the little voice inside your head.]That is what is known in some circles as the "H-Bomb Effect." It is what inspires Harvard graduates to say things like, "I came to the East Coast for college," or "Yeah, I went to school in Boston," instead of giving their school by name, because once the inevitable question pushes the issue, the H-Bomb explodes.
Look, whether you like it or not, Harvard has a rep (to put it mildly), and everyone everywhere seems to have a picture in their mind of what someone from Harvard must be like. I did. Even as a kid, I heard enough jokes and one-liners from adults and cartoons to get the idea that there were colleges in the world, and then there was Harvard with the most capital of capital H's. Therefore, I can make a good guess about what happens when a person says they're from Harvard, because I thought such things myself. The instantaneous, first-impression thought-patterns generally fall into two categories:
1) "She went to Harvard, huh?" Subtext: "Well, la-dee-dah! Aren't we swanky? We must think we're the coolest thing on the face of this earth and I should just be tickled pink to be breathing the same air as you, right? Please. You're not so great, chica! Don't be so full of yourself! Who does she think she is? Geez, what a bitch..."
2) "She went to Harvard?!?" Subtext: "Are you kidding me?!? She keeps asking the dumbest questions that any idiot would know! Not get a license plate number? Can't drive in Boston? Doesn't know how to unfreeze plumbing pipes? Pfbthth! What kind of brainless moron like that gets into Harvard? They must be lowering their standards..."
The bottom line is that either way, you're screwed. If you know anything about what you're talking about, you're a snob. If you don't have any idea what anybody else is talking about, you're a moron. There is no middle ground because you're not a regular person, you're a "Harvard graduate", and that somehow makes you...different. (I won't go so far as to say "special" because, duh, it's damn corny.) So as often as possible, you try to avoid the subject at all costs, and wince when someone introduces you as "the Harvard grad." Incidentally, my family has never been the ones to do this to me. It has almost always been either a) a boss, b) a client to another client, meeting, or audience or c) a nearly-complete stranger who remembers just one thing about you for the rest of his or her life. Go fig.
Before I continue to bemoan my fate as a Harvard alum, let me say I had the best time of my life there. The professors were brilliant, my classmates were awe-inspiring, and everything I did was exciting and intriguing and pushed the question of Who I Am all over the globe -- and then it was over way too fast and someone was handing me a diploma. And yes, I can hear the tiniest violin in the whole wide world from here, thank you.
I want readers to understand a couple of things for the record: first, neither my parents, grandparents or any other relative of mine ever went to Harvard... in fact, I'm one of the lucky ones who went through college and graduate school; second, my true name does not end in a Roman numeral - I am not from "old money", "new money" or "money". I paid my own way though school (and continue to this day... and into the far foreseeable future). Third, I never in a million years ever thought I'd go to Harvard. I mean that literally. It wasn't some far-off dream, some longed-for Ivy League phantasm; it wasn't even on my mental map. Heck, graduate school wasn't even on my mental map! (I was unsure college was the way to go when I applied then too.) I am not saying this to make frothing college applicants scream in maniac frustration and curse my already well-Fated head; I say it in order to burst the bubble that everyone must have wet-dreams featuring "Veritas" written all over their retinas in crimson.
So if I had no intention to go to Harvard, why did I apply? Simple: desperation. I know that must sound crazy, but let me give you some background. I, while not the dullest eye in the crowd, am not the sharpest tool in the shed, either. I had decent grades, a rather anal approach to schoolwork and studying, and a lot of determination, but my test scores sucked. And when I say "sucked", I mean like "something graphic you might see on an unwanted porn-spam" kind of "sucked". It's called something mild like "Test Anxiety" nowadays, but that seems unfairly simplistic of the mind-numbingly blank, sick feeling behind a brainful of mud that happened in a gymful of deskchairs in neat rows of sweating high school students. What, me worried? I took the SATs twice. I took the GREs three times. I was one of the few people who could get a refund from the Kaplan course. (They pointed out that while my score did not go up 200 points in any category, let alone all of them, I got into Harvard, so what was I complaining about? Well, it was the principle of the thing...!)
Ask me the details of Gaugin's paintings, ask me the comparative symbolism inherent in various trickster myths from popular literature, ask me about the puberty rights of the Sambian tribespeople, ask me to illustrate the ironies in the Shakespearean tragedies... but for heaven's sake, don't ask me to figure out the cosine of a geometric prism! I just don't care, and it has nothing to do with my intelligence, let alone my life as a valuable human being. What's the best antonym for "Fugue"? Ack!
[Disclaimer: For those would-be college applicants, "Ack" is not the antonym for "Fugue." It's "Hallelujah Chorus."]Over three years of employment, volunteerism, activism and applications later, I got into grad school. It began my final year of college, applying to four or five schools I thought I'd do well in, but I didn't get accepted anywhere. S'okay, I can use some work experience (and the money) anyway. The second year, I applied to about ten schools that had a broader range of majors I might qualify under... no dice. A mild depression and minor mental breakdown, but I got over it. The third year, I applied to every school that had a major and a professor whose work I was interested in learning; I didn't care who and I didn't care where. I threw caution to the wind and wrote everywhere, even including caveats on the top of my application stating my scores did not truly reflect what a great person I am, what a great student I'd be, or how much I'd be a credit to their illustrious university X/Y/Z if only they'd read my application. In the end, I had been rejected from a whopping 28 schools. The 29th was Harvard. When I got the (thin!) acceptance letter, I had to read it twice before I actually screamed and called my mother on the phone, babbling like an idiot.
Harvard. [blink] Harvard accepted me?!? Are they sure? [I checked the envelope.] Really? [Re-checked the name, address, social security number.] But...why? Odd for someone to question their own self-worth? Oh, please. We've all been junior high students: been there, done that. So after all these rejections, why did Harvard care one whit what I had to say on my Statement of Purpose? Why did they even read my Statement of Purpose?!? Isn't Harvard supposed to be the best...?
Being no stranger to calling colleges and asking why I was rejected [twenty-eight times, people - read my lips: two-eight = twenty-eight], I flipped my approach and called Harvard and asked them why I was accepted. I mean, it's commonly suspected that if your score doesn't make a school's minimum requirement cut-off number, then they won't bother reading anything else. And trust me, I've worked with guidance counselors, professional university consultants and college review boards. Unfortunately, it's all true.
Now the really weird thing is that the woman I spoke to seemed unsurprised by the question, people seem to ask it all the time. Here's the skinny: Harvard, being "the best", figures everybody who thinks they're hot shit is going to be applying, and that's a whole world of applicants with all sorts of spangly credentials, so they consider those of lesser importance. What they want to see is that you have a good, solid Statement, can name the specific professor who you want to work with, and show competence and drive in your chosen field. They can then look at your Letters of Recommendation, test scores and grades to see if you can deliver on your promise. With that order of priority, it's no wonder I can a chance in hell; I had the experience, the tenacity and the grades. The proof's in the pudding: I was in!
But, to be honest, I arrived in Boston still feeling like I was undercover, that "they" were going to find me out any minute and send me back with an apology letter to the poor shmuck whose letter got sent to me by mistake. Our Commencement speaker, the incomparable Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, opened her speech by saying this:
"Stop looking around; we really wanted you."
And just like that, the whole crowd of students smiled. Deep inside, we all didn't think we were worthy of being there, feared in our hearts that we weren't the right one, that we wouldn't belong. And yet, there we were. It was incredible. And while it's true I couldn't identify with many who said they were the "big fish in a small pond making the adjustment to being the small fish in a big pond," I was happy meeting people from all around the world who approached new people and new opinions and new projects with absolute passion. I couldn't help being swept along, discovering fresh ideas and trying on theories and writers and philosophers like so many hats. I belonged. I rocked. And then I became a Harvard graduate.
I don't have my diploma in a frame or on display, I don't have a bumper sticker or window sticker on my car, I ditched my keychain after Boston, I rarely wear my sweatshirt in public, and I cringe when my alma mater is mentioned in conjunction with my name. Why? I guess I'm still a shell-shocked casualty of repeated H-Bombing. I remember one of my T.A.'s gave our class this bit of advice: "One day, you'll be proud you went to Harvard because you'll believe you've earned it. Until then, just know: you were here, and no one can take that away from you."
I, "Crack", went to Harvard, and somehow I think that doesn't make one bit of difference.