A copy of The Porcellian Club's fall 1993 punch book gives the inside information on many of the 133 strapping young "embryos" punched for the club.
You'll discover, among other things, where the candidates went to school, if they make good small talk and, most importantly, if they are "NB" (Never Better--essentially a euphemism for "good") or "OBM" (Old Barn Material--essentially, a home run).
The pages of the book contain the candidates' names plus a picture and biographical information taken from the Freshman Facebook on the top. The rest of the space is left for comments--some supportive, some nasty--by current members.
The book lends insight into what has changed--and what hasn't--at one of Harvard's all-male final clubs. Prep school background, region and legacy status do not appear to be the sole determinants of membership they may once have been, but the book shows that they remain factors.
The right kind of personality, however, is what getting into the Porc is all about. A prospective member of the club needs to strike a delicate balance. One can't come on too strong--"trying hard" is used as a criticism in the book. At the same time, being boring is death. "Pleasant if dull," one club member remarked of a candidate.
The evaluation process is a lot like figure skating. Points are deducted for technical mistakes in the conversations during which prospectives are evaluated by members. The deductions can be huge. One candidate received a "black ball" from a club member because he "spilled malt on my leg at the turkey shoot--the first round tryout to get into the club.
Just because the Porc is exclusive doesn't mean that diversity isn't an issue. "Embryo Waterfield seems NB," a club member remarked of John Randall Water-field '96, "Mid-Western embryo! We're lacking in this quotient (for good reason?)"
Regional biases, however, seem to be a thing of the past. "Pretty N.B. but seemed a little on the cocky side," a Porc member wrote of Adrian David Ashkenazy '96, who hails from the 90210 area code of Beverly Hills, Calif. "Pretty laid-back and must be cool. From Cali!"
The praise of some candidates can be so glowing that it borders on the homoerotic. "So NB!" is frequently seen, as are references to how the prospectives dress. Being a classics major is in, as are sports.
"Soccer, lacrosse and classics embryo--so, so NB!" one member wrote of Norman Wingate Boyd III '96.
But comments can descend into personal attacks, too.
"I'm not sure about this guy," one Porc member said of a candidate. "He seems nice, friendly and outgoing, but at the same time, rather lofty or arrogant. I can't quite put my finger on it but we'll see what he's really like as tea goes on."
"He's shallow, slick and his nose is brown," a club member wrote of another prospective. "Unless we have sunny days for the outings, don't expect to see him."
Just as the admissions office give preference to Harvard legacies, having had a family member in the Porc counts in one's favor. On the page for Michael Gordon Douglas '96, for example, "LEG" is written and underlined near the top, with the note "Bros. Hon. Douglas '30, '57". Dad and granddad (J. Gordon Douglas Jr. '30 and III '57), it seems, were members of the club.
Douglas also won points for having attended Milton Academy, which one Porc member calls in the book a "club school--NB!". With just the turkey shoot done, and two outings and a final dinner left to go, club members were already clamoring to elect Douglas.
More than anything, the Porc book shows that the club values free and open debate in its attempt to determine the merits of the candidates.
The disagreements can be fierce. On one page, for example, a club member suggested that a candidate be shot. But other members rose to the candidate's defense.
"This embryo is more N.B. than he appears", a club member pleaded. "Take another look--have spent time hanging with him outside of tea, and is very curious about the Old Barn."