Some time ago a grey-haired man who smoked his cigarettes until they scorched his fingertips told us that maturity was the end product of conformity. The happy man, he added sadly, was the one who never admitted to himself that he had conformed.
If the grey-haired man were correct, as such men are apt to be, then Harvard can be a haven for maturity and ofttimes for happiness. For the College, although we rarely admit it to ourselves, is the place to conform. At first glance Harvard seems to be the haven for the individualist, but after some inspection (and introspection) it becomes apparent that undergraduates are trying to be different in the same basic ways.
Of course there are the outright examples of conformity. There are the blue suits consigned to decay the first week of the Freshman year, along with a palm beach jacket, some "loud" ties, and a few shirts with the "wrong" type" collar. The accents and the mannerisms take a little more time, but not much.
The first step toward maturity, however, was the application to Harvard College. A large group applied because Harvard is "the place to go." This is a widely held opinion, and thus a happy, mature one. A less rugged and better dressed group applied because it was "the thing to do." This is a widely held opinion, and thus a happy, mature one. A less rugged and better dressed group applied because it was "the thing to do," if not "the only thing to do." This is a somewhat different viewpoint from that of the former group, but it is nevertheless a highly acceptable one.
Once in the swing of things at Harvard, one can conform without effort and without even becoming aware of it, all the while thinking one is doing his very best to be different. The sad truth is that very few ways to be different have been discovered at Harvard. To disguise the truth, most conformity cults around Cambridge bill themselves as ways to be different. One can be different at Harvard by being better, and everyone here knows that he is better.
Recently there has been a movement towards a more deliberate program of conforming-by-being-different. There is the organizational approach. The best organization is where one can have the security of belonging to a large group and still believe that one is better than the masses. This approach can be seen socially (like the Clubs), in activities (the CRIMSON, some say) and academically (in the library at three on a beautiful fall day).
There is also the artistic approach to maturity. If numbers are any guide, it would appear that art offers happiness and security. The appeal of this group has diminished as most undergraduates realize that everyone believes he could write a really great novel if he ever sat down to do it.
An allied but not so product-minded group is the bohemian circle. While the artist spends considerable time suffering so he might be happy eventually, the bohemian can be happy all the time so long as he presents a miserable exterior. There are hundreds of these lonely aesthetics and they have arranged certain ways of dress and speech (not to mention thought) which are well accepted and, at the same time, different.
Athletics can be a different source of conformity. Football is somewhat sordid and its players are too different, especially when the season is over. But a tennis player, if he plays the game properly, can enjoy his sport all year round.
Like the football player, the grind can become annoyingly obvious. But the University has devised several means of making him feel secure, and periodically distributes titles, scrolls, and dollar bills to help them along.
Harvard's actors are now due for official acceptance, after several years of successful work. The rugged individualists who built up local theatre will soon get together in a solid and stolid building where they can continue that odd mixture of escapism and exhibitionism.
Most of us have admitted to ourselves that we have conformed, or are doing so. Occasionally we try to fight back. Very few of us however, fight back alone. There are those who give up the fight and leave Harvard, thus depriving us of a divergent attitude which would be unsettling and interesting. There are those who are different and still at Harvard, and they can usually be found eating in the corner of the dining halls, ignored by their embarassed classmates.
If group pressure doesn't suffice to get a beard off a chin or a world-saver off a soap box, the University is usually on hand with tutors, advisers, section men, and analysts. But even with the help of friends and elders, some of us will, like the grey haired men, smoke our cigarettes until they scorch our fingertips.