The Downhill Slope

When we were prefrosh, we were all smart and good-looking

Three hundred and eighty-eight years ago, the first institution of higher learning on the American continent was established by a colonial government. The college was to be the center of thought and advancement for the New World. Its thinkers would help create a new class of educated public servants that would transform a group of colonies into a nation and propel that nation to greatness. Needless to say, we all know the name of this esteemed institution: the University of Henrico in Henricus, Virginia. Lucky for us, construction was delayed indefinitely when the town was destroyed by the small event named by historians as the Indian Massacre of 1622. Whew. Close one. We were almost the Yale of Hernico.

Up in frosty Massachussetts Bay, the pilgrims quickly capitalized on this turn of good luck, and in 1636 voted to “give 400 [pounds] towards a schoole or colledge.” New College located in Newtown was established in hopes of training someone to give better names. The renamed Harvard College in the renamed Cambridge went on to serve for the next 370 as a sanctuary and training ground for the preeminent minds of the world: Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and the little-known John Adams. The scholars educated themselves in the “core” curriculum of the age: scriptures, the languages of Syriac and Chaldee, ethics, imitation, epitome, and declamation. In the 1970s, this core was updated to include Lit & Arts C. Historians of the future will consider these 370 to be Harvard’s golden era.

Unfortunately for you prefrosh who will decide to come to Harvard, all great empires (Roman, British, Ottoman, Yankees) must enter decline. Next year will be recorded as marking the beginning of Harvard’s linoleum era. What can we say? Things were just better when we were prefrosh. Coming to Harvard after us is like inheriting the Roman Empire after the Antonine dynasty. If you don’t understand the allusion, it’s ok. When we were freshmen, we got it. Likewise, our folders were crimson, not red, Cambridge never had weather below 70 degrees, Nobel prize winners wanted to play beer pong with prefrosh, and Harvard had a president whose name alluded to the time of year when the loving sun is closest to the earth. And he would sign dollar bills. Now the new president’s name alludes to a bitter scholar who makes pacts with Satan.

Yes, things were better, but it’s because we worked harder for them. We didn’t have your SAT inflation—we were happy just to make a 1600. Most of us didn’t have to use spell check on our computers. In fact, we used typewriters. For the class of ’11, Harvard accepted only nine percent of people who applied. A year ago it was 9.3 percent of applicants. Three years ago it was 10.3 percent. In fact, the class of ’11 has the lowest acceptance rate ever. What does this say about you? Obviously the admissions office found that more of us current students were up to snuff.

Nevertheless, this news is no reason for any of you to be discouraged. Harvard is still selective. It hasn’t declined to the point of Facebook or Yale, where anyone can get in. In all honesty, it’s not your fault. If anyone should be blamed, it’s your parents. Maybe if they hadn’t taken those four years in the Peace Corps, you would have been born before a Bush was president. You could have been a student at Harvard before the time of moral decay: Condoms, alas, can now be found in freshmen dorms and a there is an alcohol-serving bar on campus. There’s even talk of co-ed dorm rooms. What would Increase Mather think?

Maybe Harvard isn’t what it was when we were prefrosh, but it’s still better than going to an institute of technology or being mugged in New Haven. Enjoy your weekend. Go out. Mingle with other prefrosh, live it up, and enjoy being wooed by the admissions office. You might not even remember your prefrosh weekend, but don’t worry: We’ll be here in September waiting for you with the pictures.