“Why don’t you want to go to a good school like Fordham?”
With these words, my grandmother summed up what had been on the minds of all my family members. While my decision to choose Harvard over Fordham seems like a no-brainer to everyone I have ever encountered in Cambridge, the choice was the most difficult I have ever had to make. And in some way, I know my choice disappointed my family at the time.
I grew up in a Fordham family. My parents met and married at Fordham. Both uncles on my father’s side are Fordham Rams, as are both of my brothers, my sister, one cousin, and countless friends. Our family made frequent trips to Fordham and passed by the campus whenever we visited the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanical Garden. I watched my first live college basketball games at Rose Hill Gymnasium and attended basketball camp there from middle school through my freshman year of high school. Before I knew the words to my high school alma mater, I knew Fordham’s fight song by heart.
When my high school guidance counselor discussed the choice with me, he made a remark that has stuck with me ever since. He said that Fordham would always be a part of me and, laughing, said, “You’ll always be a Cram”—not fully Harvard Crimson, and not fully a Fordham Ram. I remember this remark because my relation with each school has been the source of a slight split in allegiance to each, and in turn, a struggle to find my own identity in college. Just like both institutions, I found my true colors in athletics.
One of Harvard’s dirty little secrets is the source of its color, crimson. The story with which most Harvard students and alumni are familiar is that the university once used magenta as its colors, but after a debate amongst students pushed the issue to a vote, the university switched its colors to crimson on May 6, 1875.
Another piece of Harvard folklore contends that future university president Charles W. Eliot, while a student rower, distributed crimson scarves to his fellow rowers so that spectators could distinguish Harvard crew from the competition in the Regatta of 1858. After he served as Harvard’s 21st president from 1869-1909, the Harvard Corporation voted to make the color of Eliot’s scarves the official color of the university—crimson.
These two snippets of Harvard mythology may in fact be true, but when Harvard narrates the history of its colors, it neglects an important fact that Fordham relishes in telling. Magenta was the original color of both Fordham and Harvard, and while each school wanted the exclusive use of the color, neither would relinquish using it.
The schools were also archrivals at the time, and settled their dispute over a series of baseball games. Though Fordham won the series, Harvard reneged on its offer. The matter was still in dispute when Rev. William Gocklen, S.J., became Fordham’s 11th President in 1874.
After Gocklen was installed, the question of university color was raised and maroon was chosen—a full year before Harvard students abandoned their own use of the stolen magenta color in favor of crimson.
Though Harvard’s crimson still bears a striking resemblance to Fordham’s maroon, the switch marked an honest start to self-identity.
While I enjoy setting the record straight because it provides me the opportunity to knock the high self-importance of Harvard students, the story of each school’s quest to strike out on its own and find its true colors reminds me of my own quest to turn from the familiar in favor of the uncharted, and my subsequent struggle of school allegiance.
Perhaps in an unconscious effort to never be forced to declare that allegiance too soon, I began covering women’s hockey—one sport in which Harvard and Fordham would surely never meet. Through weekly sports meetings and frequent trips to Harvard’s athletic site, I learned about Harvard’s other varsity teams, their members, their successes and failures. A funny thing happened somewhere along the way. Yes, it occurred in the classroom, in the dining hall and in the dorm—but it also occurred in the press box, on the sidelines and in the stands, along the fence and on the banks of the Charles. Harvard’s athletes gave me something to cheer about, something to feel allegiance to, and something to be proud of.
Looking back, I cannot say when or where it actually occurred, or when I first knew there had been a change. I only know that the transformation is complete. Though I still have a soft spot for the Fordham maroon, four years of following the Crimson on the ice, court, track, field and water have made me a loyal Crimson Crazy.
There’s no escaping Fordham. After completing my last final exam of college, I turned on my cell phone to find a text message from an old high school friend—he was in the middle of graduation ceremonies at Fordham. I thought of the Rose Hill campus, how green Edward’s Parade might look in front of Keating Hall, adorned with bunting and banners, and how different the past four years might have been.
Fordham was, as it still is now, a home away from home. But while Rose Hill marks where my roots lie, Harvard Yard marks where I found myself—not so much different as I was before, but more self-assured than I’ve ever been.
I still wear Fordham apparel around campus, and I still follow the Rams in Atlantic 10 basketball and Patriot League football. Later this summer, I’ll serve as a groomsman at my brother Tom’s wedding at Fordham’s University Chapel.
This time, when I see the family and they ask why I didn’t want to go to a nice school like Fordham, I’ll have four years worth of material to tell them why I made the right decision.
—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.