Monday, April 26, 2010

Harvard sheepishness

Finally, and this is what I think prompted my non-misplaced roommate’s reaction, her appalled disbelief, the ritual—the submission [to the Harvard College Fifth Anniversary Report], the reunion itself—seemed so very Harvard. And Harvard-ness is something we members of an irony-steeped generation (or my irony-steeped friends; it’s probably not fair to generalize) have always struggled with. In college, we went to formals, but in thrift-store fancy dress; at graduation we drank “Harvards” (Angostura bitters, brandy, grenadine for the crimson, sweet vermouth, lemon juice—thanks, Playboy Bar Book!) with the same kind of winking observance and defiance of ritual. It was only subtly different than actually observing the ritual, and perhaps the distinction was discernable only to us; but it felt, still feels, like an important one. No, we weren’t really being the elite, there in our dark-paneled, Oriental rug-ed library, there in our common room before our fireplace with its plug-in log. Instead, we were rolling our eyes at the notion of being that elite. I understand better now than I did then how grating our refusal to own up to the privileges we’d been granted may have been to an outsider, but it was how we defined ourselves then: we were of Harvard but not, you know, of of it. And that distinction seemed impossible to establish in the context of the reunion. By registering, by attending, you forwent any kind of insouciance. You would be caught trying, for real.
--Phoebe Kosman (Harvard College '05), Harvard Magazine, on other manifestations of the mentality that made us say, "I go to school in Boston"

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