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ACCORDING TO THE little red HSA handbook, there are several ways to make money at Harvard. The easiest scheme, as a former HSA president and two close friends from the Pudding have now proven, is publishing a book. Call it the "definitive insiders' guide" to the Ivy League, chock it full of nifty alumni picnic stories, throw in artsy unfocused pictures of preppies drinking beer in Harvard stadium and hippies standing around looking high, slide it into a glossy cover with Ivy school emblems that look like ski patches, and wait for the money to roll in.
If the result reads like a combination for an IBM ad in the CRIMSON and Reader's Digest's "From the Campus" section, all the better. They're not going to know it in Des Moines and they're not going to buy it anywhere else. The three Harvard graduates who will gather in the sheckles from this adventure into Madison Avenue conjure up one Ivy stereotype after another, blow on it with their windy wit, and leave it. In the face of unsubtle attempts to infuse rewrites of admissions booklets with local color--paint it whitewash--all of the eight Ivy League schools come out remarkably the same.
If you go to Penn, "there could be few more exciting places to become a well educated man." Or "if you are thinking of winning a Rhodes Scholarship, becoming a United States Senator, or simply obtaining an outstanding liberal education at a well-situated college, look closely at Princeton." If the name you want is Harvard, "the essence of its life provides a challenge and experience unmatched at any American university." That is, of course, unless you are at Dartmouth where team spirit "helps provide identity and direction, it sharpens challenges, helps make life exciting." And on and on. The descriptions of each of the eight Ivy schools have as much zest as a half-time show on the College Bowl.
If the Guidebook can be believed, Ivy architecture can be broken down into Majestic Gothic and Traditional Ivy Covered. Five schools have the sprawling urban campus, three are New England rural setting. Once you have the location and the architecture, map out the coordinates on the magic chart and Bingo, there's that school in a nice neat package.
And if the Guidebook's humor ever sags, that insider's advice, as glossy as the cover, just keeps zipping along. The inquisitive high school senior learns that Penn calls its abnormal psychology course "Nuts and Sluts." Harvard calls informal dinner talks in the Houses "tables," and Princeton calls university cops "proctors." (If that's the inside dope, I'll go to CCNY, thanks.)
AN ATTEMPT at the end of each section of the book to compare levels of education at different Ivy schools, degenerates into a faces and names tally sheet. The potential Ivy Leaguer gets to choose his education by the number of names he recognizes.
The factual background on each school varies from irrelevant to misleading. Two-thirds of the first page on Penn talks about a new swimming pool. Dartmouth is most famous for its computer (after its team spirit, of course) and secondly famous because "even classrooms are left unlocked after hours to allow extra study space for students who want an entire room, complete with blackboards, chalk, and 20 empty desks, to study in." Only after six pages of computer sketches of Snoopy and praise for the Dartmouth campus--traditional Ivy Covered in rural New England setting--do the authors drop Dartmouth's one beautiful feature: the grocery store runs the largest distributorship of beer between Boston and Montreal.
But really, Harvard students don't want to know about Dartmouth's computer; we don't care if Princetonians call Main Street "the street." We want to know what Harvard is supposed to be.
Well, Harvard is "a haven for rich Communist homosexuals who attack young virgins." Don't take that seriously folks, it's only a joke.
Actually, "Only Berkeley and Ann Arbor of American college towns can match the vitality of life to be discovered in Harvard Square." Berkeley, maybe, but Ann Arbor? Ann Arbor has two movie theaters that alternate showing the "Sound of Music" and 13 drugstores selling blue and yellow Michigan banners across the counter at the soda fountain.
Harvard--like every other school in the Ivy League except maybe Dartmouth and Cornell--has access to an exciting cultural life, which means that Harvard is within two hours of a museum and symphony orchestra. But there is more. Harvard has hippies, political "activists," Al Vellucci, the Freedom Trail, House sports, and things like HSA which is "a conglomeration of student-run agencies selling everything from hot dogs...to information on the college scene." The college scene info, I presume, is the HSA Student Calendar.
WITH A BOOK that needs every friend it can get, the Ivy Guidebook naturally refuses to pass a critical judgment on any of the Ivy schools. Behind all the faces and jokes, somewhere, sometime, I think I expected to see some sort of qualitative distinction made between one college and the next.
Surely the guy at the admissions office really didn't mean it when he said, "You can't go wrong at any of those schools you mentioned." That was just his come-on to make me think that Harvard is too cool to dump on those other seven colleges. But the Ivy Guide is just the come-on without the twisted ironic smile. And if, as the authors admit, the idea was dreamed up over whisky sours at the Pudding, then the book must have been written much later that night on the way home.
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