Cope With the Egos
Don't Do It...
GREETINGS fresh people! Welcome to Harvard! Enter to grow in knowledge, leave to grow in wealth!
Undoubtedly, you've been able to absorb some of the ambiance of this great institution we call home in the short while you've been here. And, just as assuredly, you've been given tons of advice--from proctors, from advisers, from friends and relatives, ad nauseam. You've probably even heard some of the darker secrets about Fair Harvard. Here's your chance to hear it all.
First of all, the many other fresh people you've already met a little--forget them, 'cause you'll never see most of them again. Even if you do, you'll generally be stuck at the same banal, shallow conversational level you're at now. You'll start meeting your real friends son based on your interests and activities.
I remember when I came to Harvard in 1985, with expectations at big as Widener's bowels. I thought I was ascending Mt. Olympus to consort with the Greek gods.
After a semester of suffering through large impersonal courses with all the other starry-eyed fresh types, I knew something was wrong. The only gods I'd met were Bacchus and Rosovkus, patron god of the Core. Where were the exciting intellectual experiences I had dreamed of? Where was Apollo or Athena? Hell, where was Aphrodite?
Like I did, in a few months you may tell yourself, "This is not my beautiful class. This is not my beautiful college." And, you may say to yourself, "My God! What have I done?"
Welcome to Harvard.
BUT, that's not the worst. You can always learn to avoid arena-courses and one Core a semester is a humbling growth experience. The real worst thing at Harvard is your fellow students.
How many times have you heard that the true advantage of Harvard is the quality and diversity of the people you meet here? Sure, you meet your share of senator, C.E.O. and Nobel prize-winner wanna-be's. But, have you ever really thought about being stuck with 6500 aggressive over-achievers?
It's often said that somewhere in Cambridge is the Center of the Universe, but no one is quite sure where, because every Harvard under grad thinks it's underneath the ground he or she is standing on. Sadly, this is true.
There is no group of people so egocentric as Harvard students. Don't be fooled by the best behavior that most of them are displaying now, it will end soon. What you notice the more time you spend here is the way Harvard students always put themselves--their careers, their work-ahead of other people. When choosing among updating a resume, writing a paper or spending time with you, your Harvard "friends" will invariably place you at the bottom of the list.
It's not even as if it's just the conservatives, or the liberals, or the works, or the jocks who are selfish. It's almost everyone. Even those who volunteer for public service are as vain and self-centered as the rest. Their "helping other people" gets in the way with their dealing with you as a real person.
Welcome to Harvard.
IF you ever thought that coming to Harvard would give you a chance to interact with a mature group of people who communicate and discuss things rationally, you lose a turns Harvard is just high school writ large...except with lamer parties.
For example, the final clubs are an excuse for a bunch of "real guys" to get together and have parties where they can keep out all the "losers" while inviting all their female sycophants from Radcliffe, Wellesley, Lesley, Smith, Pine Manor etc. to fawn over "Harvard Men."
They're like institutionalized cliques for guys who never grew out of the days when they used to build tree houses and post "No Gurlz Allowed" signs.
In many ways, the final clubs set the tone for a lot of the attitudes towards women. Coming to the most prestigious learning institution in the nation, you might think that acquaintance and date rape wouldn't be problems here. These are "Harvard Men," after all. But then, so was the inventor of napalm.
Going to a campus party should be a fun and safe way to spend the evening. But if the reports of a rape at the Pi Eta Club are true, this might not be the case.
If you're not a woman, don't feel left out, because at Harvard insensitivity is an equal-opportunity employer. Even though Harvard students claim to mean well, racial and homophobic incidents crop up each year.
But I don't know which is worse: the incidents or the inevitable soul searching and hand-wringing debates that follow, which inevitably abate just in time for the next incident.
It's not as if the incredibly bad way Harvard under grads treat each other isn't enough to make you wary of them. As the year goes by, sporadic reports of suicide attempts, though hushed up by a protective administration, make the rounds of student gossip. The drug abuse taking place you can observe yourself. Of course, I'm not talking about alcoholism or bong-hitters who could smoke Bob Marley under a table. It's the coke and ecstasy here that are really frightening.
Finally, if you've gotten this far and still think I'm just trying to scare you, remember that I haven't gone into the nonexistent advising, or the inaccessible professors, or the weather, or even the overcrowded basketball courts.
Yet, even I admit that I wouldn't have gone anywhere else--and that's what scares me. For all its faults, Harvard is still Harvard...and we all know it. If you can cope with the egos here, you can do anything.
So, once again, welcome to Harvard And good luck.
Rob Greenstein '89-and-a-half is a second-semester senior who believes that Elvis will someday return to redeem us for our sins.