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IT WAS THAT MOMENT just before the start of a sporting event when the crowd sets aside its anticipatory frenzy and quiets down for that most American of communal rituals.
But on that cold February night at Briggs Cage, there was no crackly 45 to blare the National Anthem through tinny speakers. There was no sugar-sweet soprano behind whom fans could mumble the timeworn lyrics.
There was only Danny Ramos and a two-bit marching band.
Ramos now says he didn't intend to butcher "The Star Spangled Banner" that night. And he certainly didn't intend to be dismissed summarily from his job as announcer for the women's basketball team as a result of his performance.
But that's exactly what happened.
He had lured about 20 of his closest friends to the Yale game with a sterling promise: he would croon the national anthem as he had one earlier in the season. The friends showed up, but so did the Harvard Band.
That's when the trouble started.
When Ramos had volunteered to sing the anthem earlier in the season--the record player was broken--he had done it a cappella and performed admirably.
But this time, the band accompanied Ramos, and he didn't hit a single note. "By the time I got to the bombs bursting in air, my lungs were bursting in my chest," the Kirkland House senior recalls.
Both basketball coaches were upset. An assistant athletic director was incensed. Some of the players grumbled.
Ramos was fired on the spot.
Friends say that the Rosanne Barresque rendition of the Anthem was vintage Ramos--a spirited, clownish performance meant to attract more people to a women's basketball game.
"It was really a funny sight because the kid can't sing, but he was giving it his all, moving his arms around," says three-year friend. Timothy J. Burnieika '91. "He was just doing it to be Danny--grabbing the microphone to sing the national anthem in a screechy, high-pitched voice because he can't do any better. That's him."
RAMOS HAS SPENT much of his life on the periphery of the action, cheering it on with a passion few can match. He draws his strength--and, ironically, his individuality--from groups. "People always say, 'Danny, are you ever down?'" Ramos says. "Maybe I am, but that's when I'm alone. When I'm with people I just can't be down."
He is a graduate of William S. Hart High School in suburban Los Angeles, where he and and 20 friends founded the "Terrible 21," an organization whose only mandate was school spirit and good old-fashioned hell-raising.
Explains Ramos, "I didn't play football, but a lot of my friends did."
Before every Hart High football game, the 21 would imbibe large quantities of alcohol, douse their bodies with red and black paint (complete with a large 'H' emblodened on their chests), and head off to the stadium to egg on the faithful.
During his first year at Harvard, Ramos surveyed the social scene and found it lacking in verve. He yearned to create the same kind of community he had found in high school. So he founded a fraternity.
At the time, he was not overly occupied with academics. His first-year curriculum resembles a Confidential Guide list of Harvard guts, including such offerings as "Beast Literature," "The Psychology of Law," and "Jesus and the Moral Life."
He had been grateful just to be admitted to Harvard--he had been nixed from Stanford and Georgetown when the bulky packet with a Cambridge postmark arrived for him in April, 1987. "I figure I was probably the 1600th kid to get in," he says with a grin. "They took a chance on me."
Most of his friends went to schools like the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, and San Diego State.
All of those schools have something Harvard doesn't--frats. So with time on his hands, Ramos and a handful of friends started the Harvard chapter of Zeta Psi and created a ready-made "group of guys" with whom to hang out, pound beers and take the occasional road-trip.
AFTER HIS FIRST YEAR IN GRAYS, Ramos moved on to Kirkland House, where he quickly became ensconced in house life. He coordinated intramural activities, served for a year on the Undergraduate Council, and, by some accounts, came to know everyone in the house on a first-name basis.
He carried his Kirkland spirit with him last summer, when he proctored summer school in Winthrop House. His entry was composed primarily on international students, and Ramos hosted a series of study breaks to bring the disparate group together. His key tool? The sing-along.
"These poor kids were aghast," recalls William C. Rava '91, who attended several of the breaks. "They didn't know what was up."
But with persistence, Ramos eventually had the entire group singing poptunes "in all those various accents," says Rava.
Ramos says he learned the value of community-building from his father, who grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to the South Bronx and eventually to Los Angeles.
When talking about what Puerto Rico means to him, Ramos recounts one of the island's Christmas Eve traditions, during which a group of friends go from home to home. At each stop, they are served food and then go on to the next house, taking with them their previous host. The revelry goes on till dawn. "They're very community-centric," he says.
Ramos says he has tried throughout his Harvard career to build on this tradition of group bonding, but he fears that many of his fellow students have been too occupied with ego aggrandizement and resume-stuffing to make friends.
"It's better to come away from here saying I've communicated with people--even people I don't like. It's important to make friends," he says. "It seems like a lot of people who are going to leave here won't take that with them."
Ramos hopes to continue making friends, and maybe even do it for a living. He has no concrete plans for next year, but the Government concentrator hopes to attend law school and expects to wind up in politics.
"He's one of the most outgoing people you'll ever meet. You'll see him on one of his worst hung-over days, and he'll be 'hey, hey, how ya doin'?" says Burnieika. "People who've never heard of him before will listen to him."
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