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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

I Will Be Class Marshal

By Brian D. Reich

YESTERDAY, a woman from the Alumni Office called to remind me to pick up an application for Senior Class Marshal. I told her that there must be some kind of mistake, that I had never led a parade, had no flaming-baton-twirling abilities whatsoever and would feel ridiculous wearing one of those big white hats with the gold chinstrap anyway.

Yet she was insistent.

"No, there's no mistake. It says right here in your folder that you're someone everyone knows casually but nobody really likes much, only for some reason everyone assumes everybody else really does like you a lot. You're exactly what we're looking for in a Marshal. In fact, you were admitted to the College solely on the expectation that you would someday be elected to this position."

This bit of news came as a surprise to me. I had assumed that I was admitted because I was willing to be the guy who--in a misguided effort to outdress everyone--makes a fool out of himself at Commencement by wearing a white tuxedo.

In fact, I had only the vaguest notion of what a Class Marshal is: someone who goes around begging indigent students for donations to Harvard, makes sure the bar is well-stocked at the 25th Reunion and by doing these things, is somehow supposed to represent his class as a whole.

Before my senior year, being Class Marshal seemed like the sort of worthless thing that people would only do to boost their ego or to pad their resume. But yesterday, as I talked to the woman from the alumni office, I suddenly realized that I do need something impressive enough to bump "Leverett House Film Society" from my resume, and, since there is no Spanish Club at Harvard, being Class Marshal might not be that bad an idea.

At the moment of this realization, something deep within me--something dark and nameless--snapped, and it was then that I began to accept--and even embrace--the fact that I will be my class's Marshal.

I immediately called my parents to tell them the good news.

WHY am I so certain that the Class of '91 will elect me to be their Marshal? The answer, stunning in its simplicity, is this: I pledge to give the people not what they are supposed to want in a Marshal, but what they really want in one.

1. I am in favor of a very, very small, piddling, embarassingly cheap Class Gift. If I am elected Class Marshal, I promise not to ask anyone for a donation for a Class Gift. I know that you have better things to do with your money than give it to Harvard; with me as Class Marshal you won't even have to defend the morality as your cheapness by linking Harvard's investments with the spread of acne in the Third World.

What will probably happen is that I'll forget all about the Class Gift myself, and then Harvard's birthday or whenever it is I'm supposed to present the Gift will roll around, and during the ceremony I'll say I have to go to the bathroom or something, and I'll run over to Rix or CVS and get Harvard something really cheap, but sensible, like a big bottle of aftershave or a Russel Stover's candy sampler.

2. I will not invite the annoying people in my class back for the reunions. You know that weasely guy in your Ec 10 section who kept interrupting the section leader to regale everyone with his oh-so-droll anecdotes about the Bolivian economy? After you graduate, you'll never see him again.

Ditto for the girl who interrupts your dining-hall conversations on a weekly basis in order to make everyone sing "Happy Birthday" for one of her two dozen roommates, all of whom you considered to be almost as grating and nauseatingly bouncy as the sing-along leader herself. Just drop me a note giving me the name of anyone you absolutely do not want to see at your reunions, along with the reason why (this is just for my own personal amusement), and you can rest assured that that person will not be invited.

3. I am not even vaguely representative of my class. This should please everyone tremendously, as the one thing that Harvard students of all types agree upon is that they dislike the "average Harvard student." Yes, I am a white male, but...

.My girlfriend goes not have a print of Robert Doisneau's "The Kiss" in her room. Almost every woman at this college has this poster (psssst--the couple actually posed for the picture), and I had to search for a white to find one that didn't.

.I do not use the word "anal" gratuitously to describe people whom, at a normal school, would be described as "uptight." Unlike the typical Harvard student, I do not feel the need to demonstrate a facile knowledge of Freudian psychoanalytic theory at every possible opportunity by making a disturbingly graphic comparison between someone's behavior and a bodily orifice.

.I will be Class Marshal. I hate to harp on this point, but it's true--let's face it, the typical Harvard student is not the Class Marshal, which is a position only one or at most a few (I'll have to check on this) people can hold.

WELL, those should be enough reasons to convince you that I will be elected Class Marshal. In the next few weeks, you'll probably see a bunch of people walking around campus, slapping you on the back and asking for your vote. Feel free to humor them, but remember, this is just a formality.

I will win. It is my...Destiny.

Oh, and one last thing--try not to laugh too hard when you see me wearing the tux at Commencement.

Brian D. Reich '91 did not turn in his Class Marshal application in time to be an official candidate. He does not regard this as a serious obstacle to his inevitable victory.

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