Robert Frost claims that nothing gold can stay. Nature’s first hue rusts green, and once tarnished, can never be scoured to gleam aureate again. Yet, like morning dew, both colors find their way to remain ever-present, clinging to the crops of Harvard students right before harvest. The shears snip and uproot the next lot, but with green eyes and gilded hands clutching our degrees we convince ourselves that this is the way to color our futures for success.
Isn’t this what we always wanted, to come from our respective backgrounds and become successful—to make our families proud? To be worthy of the chances that have been taken on us through the admissions process and prove to the collective rest that this opportunity of a lifetime was not lost on us?
We’ve communicated to ourselves that worthiness can only be understood through the hieroglyphics of dollar signs: A salary of X amount outputted equals a measurable amount of the capacity and capability of an individual that was inputted to garner this amount. As a fellow Ivy League student so “eloquently” put it, we are slated for socioeconomic mobility, expected to flow easily into a higher economic bracket than the one from which we came from given our green, ivied degrees. For me—and for many other students on elite campuses—this means that we should empathize with this kind of wealth, venerate it even, because of the privileges it brings and the status it demonstrates.
Attending these elite campuses have a tendency to ingrain this pattern of thought within students. Even before the moment we step on campus, the perception of attending a school like ours dominates how others expect us to fare in our post-graduate careers. Family members will remind us to take advantage of our education so that we can be “better off” than the previous generation. Once we’re here, we’re reminded that the names of our schools will provide us with the platform to springboard into the upper echelons of society. To maintain a sense of self-integrity once falling prey to these ideas (in endeavoring to keep their reflection glistening with goodness and efficacy when confronted with the idea that they’re selling out), many shirk away from the idea that seeing success as wealth is a false conflation. Whether, in the pursuit of wealth as success, their steps are lined with the hopes of bettering their family status, of making others proud, or as the only way they know how to climb to success, they are unfortunately misguided.
The blatant fetishization of this plausible wealth after attending an elite university is not only myopic, but outright unhealthy. We chuck ad hominem insults at it because we are afraid of having an honest, moral debate about capitalism. We support virtue-signaling and philanthrocapitalism from those bequeathed with wealth to soften their perception, to make their status more relatable and thereby more attainable. We revere wealth as a tool to prove ourselves, to safeguard our inability to conceptualize a definition of success that isn’t silhouetted in green and gold. In continuing to place wealth on a pedestal, leveling it on the same playing field upon which we place our happiness and self-worth, we render ourselves naked, susceptible to failure.
Using wealth as a metric for success is an unreachable expectation. Wealth has no ceiling, no marker for when one has reached it and can now be content with the hard work they’ve put into a specific task or goal. Wealth is not a cure-all: it does not promise to become a salvation from our woes nor a salve for our shortcomings. Wealth is not the means by which we can “transform all [our] incapacities into the contrary,” and we should not dress it up as such.
Accepting a Harvard or Ivy League education can lead to wealth. And this is not inherently a bad thing; it could be a reflection of hard work and the result of a passion pursued, dashed with luck, and resulting in a monetary profit. However, when fetishized as the only way to measure an individual’s worth or success, or when held in a higher regard than pursuing one’s passions, it becomes a tragedy of a Grecian order. In using money as our feathers and good intentions our tar to fashion Icarian wings, with our sights set on the sun, we don’t fully realize our capacity to be blinded by these greens and golds until it’s too late.
Jessenia N. Class ’20 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.