The Elliptical Man
Crossing the chasm between high school and Harvard often converts the all-round boy into the Lamont Lodger or the House Hermit. The Lamont Lodger is overwhelmed, either in awe or fear, by the Academic Opportunities the College offers, and he takes what he thinks to be the best advantage of them. The House Hermit, while resisting the academic pressures, hesitates to jeopardize grades by getting involved in something besides them; in fact, he hesitates three and a half years until he wakes up one morning and finds himself turned into an IBM card.
Happily, crossing the chasm leaves many other all-round boys, if not circular, at least elliptical. There are PBH, HDC, and WHRB. There are the literary magazines and the seminars, the political magazines and the musical organizations. And there is the CRIMSON.
Now if fiber bundles or Spanish verb endings in the fourteenth century are your greatest joy in life, who is to say that you should spend your time on merely temporal activities? Out of respect, we will not contend with such as you (though we wonder how you know fiber bundles or Spanish verbs are the greatest joy without having tried anything else). But if you think experience offers a plurality of joys, if you have interests extending beyond formal education which you have done nothing to satisfy, then be assured: breadth does not equal academic abandon. If, on the other hand, the straightaway path to a graduate or professional degree is the only thing that interests you, then know this: some detours have prettier scenery.
Probably most of the people who spend much time in an extracurricular activity do not rationalize taking that time away from their studies. But those who do rationalize have a powerful, if seemingly naive, argument in their support (attention, Radcliffe): a good activity allows one to deal with real situations that a classroom never sees, and lets him make mistakes at negligible cost. It is an escape from professionalism with broader than professional utility.