For the third time in my years at Harvard, I have been witness to The Game, a glorious athletic tradition of our prestigious Ivy League. While colleges across the country have much greater football followings than that at either Harvard or Yale, we nonetheless try to emulate some of our Big 10 role models--at least for the weekend--by making a big to-do about this contest.
But whom are we kidding? We do not drive some 120 miles to watch football. I mean, with all due respect to the players, the game is rather tangential to the dozens of tailgates, parties and concerts that bring together current undergraduates as well as hordes of alumni. It is the hype surrounding The Game that attracts so many fans from two schools, neither of which normally has a very pronounced school spirit.
The Harvard-Yale competition is undoubtedly unique. Since the founding of Yale ended Harvard's "only child" status centuries ago, the two schools have waged a rather intense competition for the crown of the Ivy kingdom. The Game is merely an attempt to express this deep competition in a typical collegiate manner: an athletic rivalry, like that between Army and Navy or between national powerhouses Florida and Florida State.
From the midst of such chanting as "Yale sucks" and "safety school," the Harvard-Yale debate comes to the fore. Despite statistical records that suggest otherwise, here we have the real championship of the Ivy League. The football game is merely the facade behind which lies the battle for prestige, the fight for the throne.
Under such competitive circumstances, a comparison of these two unsurpassed universities begs attention. In the fall of our senior year in high school, many of us probably deliberated on the pros and cons of each school. But as we all know, what one demands from the college experience after having been there some time differs drastically from that which we sought in the pre-college years.
I could sit here and go through some of the classic college evaluation arguments. We could discuss the advantages of a city like Boston versus a "city" such as New Haven. We could evaluate each school from an aesthetic and architectural angle. We could also compare the academic environment. Which school gives greater attention to its undergraduate population? Which has smaller classes or fewer teaching fellows/assistants?
Weighty issues indeed, but we're really just splitting hairs. With two schools such as Harvard and Yale, the difference in the quality of education at each is not what it's about. There's little doubt about the ability of each institution to more than adequately equip its students for the graduate and professional years to come.
Instead, it's worth considering the type of characters who wind up at each school. What kind of student chooses to go to Yale and what type craves the red-bricked city on a hill? While both schools speak proudly of the tremendous diversity and talents of their student bodies, when it comes down to it, Homo crimsons is a different species from the Homo eli down south. The former stands one rung higher on the ladder of self-motivation.
At first glance, this might appear to be some great generalization, and of course there are plenty of young Napoleons in New Haven as well. But a closer look reveals the variation of these species. The question is, which is more fit to survive?
Yale is many things, but it is not Harvard. There is a unique air of motivation and desperation which pervades our campus like nowhere else. Harvard enjoys the spotlight of the collegiate world, and it is Harvard's center-stage quality as a school that attracts a similar personality from its students.
An individual who chooses to attend Yale over Harvard, of the few Yalies who had the luxury of that choice, essentially shies away from the glory and hype surrounding Harvard's name. The student is not interested so much in attending what is reputed to be the best school, as in attending the school that may be most comfortable for him or her.
While such modesty is no doubt admirable, it pales in comparison to the drive and ambition expected from the Harvard student. Although we too believe in modesty, we want the top and nothing less. This betrays a level of assertiveness in ones character which comes in greater quantities in your typical H. Crimsonus relative to H. Eli.
This heightened ambition instills in Harvard students a academic mind-frame, distinct from that of their Ivy League rivals, which leaves its imprint upon the scholastic air pervading each school's campus. The individuals comprising the Harvard community serve to create an atmosphere of academic excellence second to none. Surrounded by some of the best minds in the world, one cannot help but grow intellectually and culturally.
What is essential to note, however, is that not only is the success and achievement contagious but so too is the driven and assertive character commonly encountered. One cannot passively approach the Harvard experience, for one will be trampled on by the masses of students who know exactly where they would like to go and are determined to do so in the fastest way possible. Individuals, therefore, are pushed to assert themselves strongly so as to thrive in the struggle for academic excellence, a goal towards which we are all so decisively directed.
Yet, it is precisely this strength of Harvard which is simultaneously its greatest weakness as a school. A collection of individuals such as the ones described creates a situation that calls to mind Margaret Thatcher's description of the British people: "There is no such thing as society, only individuals."