The Real Rat Race

WHERE CAN YOU find the most uptight, tense, stressed-out student body in America?

You should know. You're one of them.

Plain and simple, Harvard University is too competitive. Not just inside the classroom, where a little competition can be expected, but also outside, where we're supposed to be having The Best Years Of Our Lives.

Because organized extracurricular activities are such an important part of life at Harvard, and because they are so ridiculously competitive, most of us have trouble scraping up a good time, much less have the best years of our lives. We're too worried about how we're going to fill in the blank space in our resumes.

WE ALL KNOW the way extracurriculars work around here.

If you want to be a writer for The Crimson, you've got to endure a tough eight-week comp. If you want to work with kids in Model Congress, you've got to apply. Same for the Model U.N. and Model Senate. The Independent and the Lampoon have comps of their own. So, in their own peculiar way, do Harvard's nine all-male final clubs.

But the hardest thing about Harvard's extracurricular organizations is not getting in. The hardest thing is being in. That's when you have to fight everyone else who made it through the front door. They all want the word editor, director, producer, president, chair before their names, too.

The atmosphere within the organizations is political and petty, and the political turf wars can turn ugly. The juniors try to kill off their classmates for that one position atop the pyramid, while the first-years and sophomores have the tough task of trying to pick the correct junior to brownnose.

George Bush isn't the only one who can ride someone else's coattails to the top.

I THINK IT'S WORTHWHILE to digress here to point out that Harvard produces some of the finest brownnosers this side of the president. It's understandable, of course. We all had to find a way to get our high school counselors to churn out our recommendations. It's just that some students have really refined their expertise at Harvard. (If you don't know whether you qualify, count up the people you know, and count how many of them are editors/directors/producers/presidents/chairs. More than half, and you're in the big leagues.)

Every once in a while a Harvard organization has a cocktail party. This is brownnoser prime time. Note the conspicuous brownnosing laughter that follows the editor/director/producer/president/chair's dumb jokes.

It's tough to resist the ray race. Few of us do. We act in plays, we write for The Crimson, we serve on the Undergraduate Council. We run PBH programs, model government simulations, the debate team. We compete, we play politics, we talk strategy, we brownnose. And we worry far more than a college student should.

NOW IS THE TIME we're supposed to be form lifelong friendships. We're supposed to hang out in big, chummy groups where everybody has a nickname. We're supposed to have a whole bunch of cool college stories with which to bore our children, the way our parents bored us.

Talk to your friends at State U., or even at the other Ivies. I bet they've got a whole lot of cool stories. I bet that when you talk to them, you have trouble recalling the days in high school when they weren't any cooler than you. What happened? Why does your life seem more like living in an old age home than in Animal House?

Because you're at Harvard. Welcome to the jungle.

Gavin M. Abrams '94 is fired.

Harvard courses are no big deal. It's ultracompetitive extracurricular activities that stress us out.