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After Harvard...........WHAT?


By Whit Stillman

AFTER HARVARD...WHAT?" is many things. It's the most annoying, boring and important question you can ask a member of the Class of 73. It's the title of a great book. And it's the bettle-cry of the Office of Graduate and Career Planning.

This week the OG&CP is unleashing on Harvard innocents a heavy dose of reality entitled. "The Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1972." This survey of last year's seniors post-graduate plans reveals that ninety-six per cent of them intend to go on to graduate schools at some time, but only a little more than forty per cent are going right away. Thirty per cent of the class admits that they don't know what they'll do, and doubling this percentage for honesty, anyone can see that not only is most of the class using graduate school merely to postpone the real world, but that a majority is post-poning that postponement.

While it is discouraging that tomorrow's decision-makers can't decide between driving a cab and "Med School." It is at least understandable. Harvard offers few courses in either subject. Post-graduate indecision is so pervasive that it has become ritualized with Law-Biz combined programs and talk of trading two years of jurisprudence at Oxford for one year of Law School here. A few confirmed wombsters have even sought the "Triple Crown" of Law, Business and Medical degrees. With a class as liberated as last year's once was, it is surprising that it should metaphorically suddenly he on it's back, and spread its legs.

Four years ago a Harvard interviewer asked me what I planned to do after college. That was a long way from the glorious world of high school extracurriculars and I paused a while before replying that I thought I'd go to "Law School" and then be a "Lawyer Active In Politics." In mid-cliche I was so embarassed I decided then forever that I'd never be a lawyer. A year later, after I'd read Theodore Roszak's The Making of the Counter Culture. I was boring my father with excited talk about how I was going to have an alternative life-style and not just be a New York Times reporter. When he asked what I'd do in the counterculture I came up with a few things--grow crops, write books like Roszak's--that quickly collapsed in their own ridiculousness. Unstoned, it is difficult to remember the allure of these alternatives.

THE LAST DECADE has not been the most normal of times. While ten years ago the Peace Corps, SNCC and the great idealistic causes diverted young graduates from the mainstream, as time went on the war diverted the mainstream itself. What the war inspired with its relentless mayhem, impervious to all protest was an emotion akin to traitorousness. And partisan reporters pushing de-mystification on all fronts multiplied that sensation.

With the war now winding down there is reason to doubt the trends of recent years. Maybe it's bad to generalize about the unique characteristics of a Harvard class, but there are at least nuances of difference between one class and the next. While two years ago a senior writing as article much like this bemoaned the passing of the Hayes-Bickford Cafeteria, today he would more likely remark on As You Like it for its good food and attractive waitresses. While the past few classes have been mystified by their own demystification, now we see the world as it is.

If the class that will graduate in June has any unique virtue, it is its unwillingness or inability to cast itself in any heroic pose. A long while ago the pose was of youthful optimism, with graduation speakers inanely observing that "Commencement is not just an end--it is a beginning." In fact, Commencement is just an end. Recently, the pose has been that of the anti-hero, young rebels wreathed in dope fumes end with defusions as grand as ever. Since the smoke cleared, seniors have had hard times taking themselves too seriously. But complimenting your own class on its unpretentiousness is like bragging about your humility.

EXCESSIVE PRIDE has kept many graduates from getting ordinary jobs. Rather than accept demeaning employment in business, government and communications they prefer to "work with their hands" as carpenters, silversmiths and farmers. In the past few years this trend has restricted the job market. But if the graduating seniors are less vainglorious, then they are more likely to accept humble executive positions, and their job opportunities are increased.

The OG&CP's new director, Frank Fisher, is on top of the employment situation and he is making himself abundant to meet his increasing popularity among seniors. Although "After Harvard...WHAT?" devotes only ten of its eighty-two pages to job-finding. Fisher's outfit also publishes The Job Hunter's Handbook, a guide called New Directions for hipsters, and a guide for black graduates which is actually entitled Up From Harvard.

The real dividing line in any graduating class is between those willing to start something they intend to stay with, whether it's medicine or opera, and those who want to play around for a few more years. A point Fisher makes is that many students spend years getting certification they don't need. It would be better to approach employers directly and state their case instead of weasling around graduate schools until they're broke. If graduates would hitch their wagon to a star in the first place we wouldn't have to humor our friends when they think they're carpenters. And if the sky falls in, well, it's fallen in before.

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