For three years while working at New York University I would take a group of students to a fall conference in Litchfield, CT (a place incommunicably beautiful in the autumn). We were joined by several other schools in the Northeast including a few Ivy League institutions.
Given that many NYU students were (sheesh I hate to say this) Ivy coulda, shoulda wannabes my protective instincts as their campus minister were on full alert. I initially went to these gatherings expecting the Ivy League students to be insufferably rude, pretentious and self-absorbed. And generally speaking they did not disappoint. Except for the Harvard students.
Yep. The Harvard kids. America's (and arguably the world's) greatest university and the Ivy League king of the castle. The rest of the Ivies will take issue with that but they're wrong, and they know it. They're all Harvard coulda, shoulda wannabes. And they know that too.
My wife and I were struck by how engaging, unaffected and generally, well, normal they all were. In the most unselfconscious way possible they routinely avoided huddling together in their own clique. My children were little at the time and generally invisible to even most of my NYU students. But not to the Harvard students. They spoke with them, acted silly with them and clearly cared about them. When we got to know them we learned how - and I can't think of a better word - well-rounded they were. Along with their academic load each of them carried a significant and time consuming cocurricular pursuit - athletic team, a capella singing group, marching band, etc.
My working theory is that having the luxury of picking anyone they want to, Harvard can easily afford to attract students like this. Of all the people with perfect SAT scores they find the ones most comfortable in their own skin.
Yes, I'm gushing. And yes, I may not have been exposed to a representative sample. And yes, I did see The Social Network and its tableau of profligate life at Harvard. (I also have a parishioner who lived down the hall from Mark Zuckerberg at Kirkland House who will tell you the film, in just about every respect, is nothing more than an entertaining fantasy.) And I'm certainly not motivated by my own college ties. I went to the University of South Carolina. At the time, if you could fog a mirror you got in and it was hard to flunk out (believe me, I tried). Being jealous of or protective of Harvard was just not a category I knew existed. I was too worried where my next beer was coming from and why we couldn't beat Clemson in anything. At least the second part of that last sentence has changed.
Given what I've done for a living most of my adult life I have seen a representative sample of college student amour propre. Twice I've spoken at conferences with students from the University of Virginia. I can think of at least three people I know personally who went there and are really good people. I'm sure there are others. But on balance you will not find a human category more passionately in love with itself than UVA students. In one two-minute conversation I had a young woman correct me twice. No, she was not a freshman but a "first year". And she didn't like the campus, she liked "the grounds". They're not Ivy League but they will tell you (they told me often), "It's harder to get into UVA than an Ivy League school." No it isn't. And quit saying that.
What's prompted all this? The video below. The Harvard baseball team killing time en route to an away game. It's deservedly gone viral. And it tells you all you neet to know about how awesome these kids are. Watch it to the end.
May 26, 2012
As Kristen points out in the comments below there is a lot more that makes this video awesome. As of this writing it's approaching ten million views and the players are using its popularity to raise awareness for a charity called Friends of Jaclyn, which helps improve the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors. Click here to learn more about it. The Harvard baseball team has "adopted" a five year old boy named Alex who is fighting cancer. Read about it here.