Content To Be Bitter
What's a good metaphor for a Harvard student? A talking, gold-plated pile of manure, wearing a fleece. What joke should you put in your Ivy Oration (the funny one on class day) tryout speech if you want it to bomb like Osama Bin Laden? See above.
Yes, I wrote that line. Wrote it and liked it and delivered it to a committee of my senior peers. At first, I thought this joke--as well as the rest of my tryout speech--was incisive and insightful, allowing my fellow seniors to laugh at their faults as they celebrated their successes. But then I gave the speech, and it came out jaded and spiteful--as bitter and poorly conceived as a mixed drink at the Hong Kong. The audience might have been more amused by excerpts from a Dairy Queen menu or a rhythmic display of armpit flatulence.
During one portion of the speech I described a computer simulation of undergraduate life at Harvard. "When technology was still primitive, this was a simple algorithm that made the computer repeat 'Habermas,' until you cried," I said. I wrote about my classes as if they were only b.s.-tossing sessions and made my classmates out to be a bunch of competitive smooth-talkers never satisfied with their own success. There were also a couple of Britney Spears jokes, but not enough to salvage the speech.
Frankly, I was shocked, because I don't think of myself as bitter about Harvard. But when I set out to be funny, without realizing it I became positively angry. The speech turned out to be as out-of-place at a happy occasion as Janet Reno backstage at a Miami Sound Machine concert.
Of course, I have been bitter before. During reading period of my first year, my first Boston winter kept me indoors, studying, for most of the time. In my room, the only thing to eat was instant oatmeal--it was like being stranded on an iceberg with Wilford Brimley. There was also some very ratty luck with relationships. My smarts did not qualify me to manage my love life in the same way that sonar does not qualify a porpoise to drive a bus. So there I was, over-fibered and under-loved, and I thought of Stanford. Sweet, beautiful Stanford. At Stanford the weather is always warm and the women don't mind oatmeal breath. I've never even visited Stanford, but in the depths of that first-year winter, I thought it must be paradise.
Flash forward to senior year, and many of us are still talking about Stanford. And Duke. And state schools. Where we could have gone, would have enjoyed it more. Should have given them a second thought four years ago, or even three or two years ago. Of course, now that my day is scheduled around three-hour naps, junk food consumption and Nintendo baseball, that seems like the right idea. "Harvard doesn't teach you anything special," I say now, bits of Twinkie in my hair. "I should have gone someplace where I could have had fun." This party envy was especially strong after the senior stumble last week. I'm sorry, but even while drunk most of you people dance like Hillary Clinton.
Of course I could have had more fun at some other school. Only a Bible college or the Kansas Institute for Coroners could do less to encourage students having fun than the Harvard administration does. And of course, there are those disheartening Harvard sections ("Well, I didn't do the reading, but I'm reminded of what Nietzsche said..."--"I'm sorry, this is a physics class"). During these sections, we do seem like gold-plated piles of manure--well-packaged but ultimately full of the same old crap. Exposed to this side of Harvard for too long, I became bitter without even knowing it.
However, to say then that I should have never come to Harvard is silly. After four years here, Harvard is less of an experience than a part of who I am, an integral factor in my development which I can't conceive of wishing away. You might as well ask Rosie O'Donnell if she wishes she weren't obnoxious, or ask Larry Flynt if blatant sexual perversion really was the cat's pajamas after all. Or ask the Misanthropic Mr. Chu if he wishes he weren't Asi--well, never mind.
I personally can barely remember what I was like before I came to college, what made me happy or worried or confident. I don't remember what I expected in my future, except that "President of the United States" was about halfway up the ladder. I don't remember how I used to read books or look or even read a newspaper. The very way I think has been changed by the last four years. That's not to say that it wouldn't have changed at Stanford, but to wish I'd attended Stanford instead is to wish away the topmost layer of myself. That's easy enough on Cher's butt, but pretty damn difficult on my psyche.
So, graduates of the Class of 2000 and all you other gold-plated undergraduates, you won't be seeing me on stage during Class Day. But I'll be glad to be unbitter in the audience, knowing I've augmented myself substantially.
Just like Britney Spears.
At least that joke made it in.
David A. Fahrenthold '00 is a history concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.