For the last few years, I’ve kept a running biography of my life in my head. It’s actually more of an encyclopedia entry than a biography, because the descriptions of each period of my life are pretty short. Here’s the one for my college career:
In 1997, Clarke was accepted to Harvard University. He spent little time on extracurriculars, aside from being a delinquent arts editor for The Harvard Crimson and presiding over the creation and subsequent disbanding of the Harvard Fiction Workshop. He graduated cum laude in English after a rather undistinguished academic career.
It’s not as bad as it could be; after all, Wordsworth had an undistinguished academic career, right? (Being an English major, I compare myself to literary figures.) But problems occur when one compares oneself to other Harvard graduates; for example, take my own personal tormentor, John Updike. Updike came to Harvard on scholarship in the early 50s, earning excellent marks throughout his undergraduate career (the only black mark on his record being his presidency of the Harvard Lampoon). He graduated summa cum laude and immediately went to work for The New Yorker, shortly after which he published his first novel and a collection of short stories. Mind you, I don’t even like his fiction. But I do begrudge Updike his glorious biographical entry. Let’s face it: the biographical entry is just about the only place where things like academic achievements really matter, adding to the celebrity’s mystique. Mira Sorvino won a Hoopes prize for her thesis and she became a movie star and won an Oscar. Meanwhile, I languish in obscurity. Where’s the justice in that?
My friends aren’t much of a consolation, I might add. Included in their number are three future Harvard Law students. Then there’s the one going to Cambridge (England) on a scholarship, the legion of consultants and I-bankers, and the summa cum laude graduate. These are amazing and talented people, to be sure, and beloved friends. But close association with them can be a bit tough on the ol’ self-esteem. The only one I feel a kinship with is the friend who’s going to Colorado to be a ski bum for a few years, though I’m sure he’ll win an Olympic skiing medal at some point.
Am I just hanging out with incredibly high-level people? Or am I the exception? These are the questions that occasionally bother me when I’m not playing video games or watching DVDs. What, I ask myself as I blast yet another enemy in Goldeneye, did I spend my time doing at Harvard? Where, I think as I watch Gladiator for the fifth time, where are my fellowships, my awards, my 70-hours-per-week consulting jobs?
But then I think, perhaps my academic record is not so undistinguished. I wrote a thesis that fared much better than my GPA, and was actually a lot of fun to write. I made some great friends here, and in general, my time at Harvard was one of “great personal growth.” And hey, I can read at least two dead languages now—so perhaps I’ve achieved a bit more than I realize.
The real question, of course, is where I go from here. Will this imaginary entry be an ironic prelude to future greatness like that of Wordsworth, or that drop-out in my father’s freshman facebook, William Gates? Or is this entry representative of a trend? Will I be a Proust or a Prufrock?
I suppose more than one of my fellow classmates out there is facing the same question. I’d like to think so, anyway. Maybe you’ve all got your law school acceptances and I-banking and consulting jobs locked down. I don’t know. No matter what your plans are, I’ll advise you not to go around making imaginary biographical sketches in your head. Instead, get busy doing things that other, less important people will want to write about. I promise to try and do the same.
Jason F.C. Clarke ’01, a Crimson editor, is an English and American Literature and Language concentrator in Kirkland House.