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Class Differences Persist Within Student Body

Class At Harvard First in a two-part series

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Joshua D. Powe '98 describes the families of the students from his high school as "very influential." Graduates of the Dalton School, located on Manhattan's posh Upper East Side, include the children of Diana Ross, John Lennon and Robert Redford. About 10 percent of each graduating class goes on to Harvard.

Powe's parents own a company that produces educational textbooks and sells Afrocentric greeting cards, mugs and imported jewelry.

"I don't think your socioeconomic background makes much of a difference, except maybe people of lesser means may not be able to go out to Boston or go to more expensive Eurotype clubs," Powe says.

He is not on financial aid.

Ourania N. Tserotas '98 attended a high school in inner-city Chicago where the dropout rate pushes 50 percent. Its students live mostly in public-housing projects; many had babies as sophomores or juniors in high school. Of the 10 percent who attend college, most go on to community colleges. Tserotas is the only graduate ever to matriculate at an Ivy League school.

Tserotas' father, an immigrant, did not finish high school and works more than 60 hours per week as a cook in a Greek restaurant.

"It's a nice assumption people make, that I'm in the same boat with them, in that people aren't overtly conscious when they talk to me," Tserotas says. "But very few people realize how much money my parents make, and those who do can't grasp it."

She attends Harvard on a full scholarship.

A hundred years ago, Harvard's wealthiest students bid for spacious rooms in Harvard Yard. Poorer students scrounged for rooms off campus. Today, more than 95 percent of students live in on-campus housing, with housing assignments made at random. Room and board fees are uniform.

While Harvard's ivy-covered walls still symbolize social prestige and economic elitism to the American public, the last 70 years have changed the University. The school that once featured catered food service in students' dorm rooms has been replaced by one where 67 percent of each class is on financial aid and 45 percent receives a direct grant or scholarship from the University.

Yet socioeconomic issues quietly haunt Harvard, and remain a volatile enough issue that many refuse to discuss them.

Several students declined to be interviewed for this series, including the daughter of corporate-takeover magnate Henry R. Kravis; the daughter of performer and Academy Awards producer Quincy Jones; and the son of Harvard Overseer and Illinois Tool Works CEO John D. Nichols Jr. '53.

Two months of research showed that middle- and working-class students were more willing than wealthier students to discuss their personal backgrounds. Still, the responses of the more than 20 students inter viewed indicate no direct relationship between class backgrounds and views on the importance of class at Harvard.

What is clear, however, is that wealth, or lack of it, shapes students' experiences prior to college, the quality of undergraduate life at Harvard, and their expectations after graduation.

Same Support, Different Experience

To Jeremy W. Linzee '97, growing up poor or rich simply connotes different life experiences.

"If you come from a family with lesser means, you're never introduced to a jacket and tie or a cocktail. It's just not part of your experience," says Linzee, who grew up in Stony Brook, N.Y. That's the way I look at class, as experiences."

His father, an artist, and his mother, a stage actress, both teach in a private school. They made every attempt to provide Linzee with singular educational opportunities.

Linzee and his parents took a year off to travel around the world during high school. He traveled through Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. His trip included sojourns to his great-uncle's medieval castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and a leaf hut in Malita Island, part of the Solomon Islands.

"I was raised in a very comfortable environment," he acknowledges. "In some ways, it was a wealthy environment."

The childhood of Lauralee Summer '98 childhood was markedly different.

Born in Santa Rosa, Calif., she lived in more than 20 locations before settling in Quincy. "I'm not working-class," Summer says. "My family is poor. We had $5,000 a year and under. It was public assistance."

Raised by a single mother who supported herself on Aid to Families With Dependent Children, Summer also received a lot of attention from her mother while growing up. "What motivated me in school is that my mother is very imaginative and learning-oriented, so she would read to me and taught me about anything I wanted to know," she says.

Summer and her mother were homeless twice, while she was in the fourth and eighth grade. After attending several elementary schools, she insisted on going to one high school for all four years. "I made my mother stay in one place. I told her not to move," says Summer, who attended Quincy High School in nearby Quincy, Mass.

Despite encouragement and support from her mother, growing up poor was tough.

"There are a lot of demands just trying to take care of the everyday needs of the family," says Summer, who has several older half-siblings. "Even my mom and I going to the laundry--we don't have a washer and dryer, we don't have a car--we'd walk like eight blocks taking big, heavy bags of laundry. That would take the whole day."

Class in the Classroom

For Harvard students, these "different life experiences" often crystallized in the classroom. High school's most universal aspects--classes, teachers and tests--varied according to the socioeconomic status of the student body, easing or impairing students' paths to college admission.

Rey F. Ramos '98 from the Bronx, N.Y., attended James Monroe High School, labeled the city's worst high school by former New York City Schools chancellor Ramon C. Cortines.

Only two Monroe graduates had ever gone on to Harvard before, in 1952 and 1956, "back when the Bronx was all white," Ramos says. Today, the school's population is predominantly Puerto Rican, Dominican and African-American.

He credits his academic success to his participation in Bridge to Medicine, a program for high-school students interested in becoming doctors, sponsored by the City College of New York. He went to City College in uptown Manhattan every day after school until 5 p.m. to study chemistry, calculus and English.

Ramos characterizes his high school's guidance and college counseling resources as woefully inadequate. Only when he began to look at colleges and read up on the requirements did he hear about Achievement tests (now the SAT-II), he says.

"'What the hell are these?'" he recalls thinking. "I just accepted that I would have to work a little bit harder to try to make up for the advantages [others] already had," Ramos says. "You're limited by what you had access to beforehand."

Tserotas also says that her high school did not give her adequate academic skills for college. Rather than emphasizing accelerated intellectual accomplishment, the focus was keeping people interested--and keeping them in school.

"I never wrote a paper in high school. We watched movies," she says.

Her high school offered only three Advanced Placement courses, and few students ever scored higher than 2 out of a possible 5.

"It wasn't for lack of trying; the resources weren't there," she says.

Despite scoring a 1 in biology, a 1 in English and a 2 in calculus, Tserotas was valedictorian of her graduating class even though she had significant duties at home, being chiefly responsible for household work since age 9.

"I think I worked harder than anyone else in the school," she says.

Another student from the Bronx, Julissa Reynoso '98, was able to earn a scholarship to Aquinas High School, a private Catholic school. About 60 percent of her graduating class went on to higher education, but mostly to community colleges.

"I had never even heard of Harvard until my junior year," Reynoso says.

She was able to get her first real taste of a world outside of the South Bronx when she went to Georgetown University for a summer program.

"I had never been exposed to a world outside of South Bronx," Reynoso recalls. "Rarely did I go to downtown Manhattan where there were a lot of white people and a lot of wealthy people. There was a clear line of division between those people and where I lived."

Because of this division, upwardly mobile minority parents seeking educational opportunity for their children--or hoping to avoid the trails which faced Tserotas or Ramos--often retreat to suburbs and predominantly white high schools.

And it is primarily these students, not those of the inner-city, who attend Harvard.

"The majority of blacks I know here did not come from inner-city or predominantly black high schools, and I think that's a problem," says a senior black woman who asks not to be identified. Harvard needs to do more to recruit those students. It's also problematic of our educational system in general that inner-city schools tend to lack the resources and may not have students of the caliber or scores that Harvard uses."

Ramos agrees. "I was surprised by the amount of money students had here. I was surprised a lot of black people weren't on financial aid either. From where I was from, all the black people were poor," says the South Bronx resident, who is Puerto Rican.

Preparation

For some, the decision to apply to Harvard is obvious, expected by parents, teachers, friends and high-school guidance counselors.

Take David M. Weld '99. Weld is the latest in a long-standing pedigree of Harvard alumni--his ancestor, William Fletcher Weld, in 1873 funded the construction of first-year dormitory Weld Hall.

But the Milton Academy graduate said he was not influenced by his family's more than 170-year presence at the University and that the decision to come to Harvard was his own. For Weld, his Harvard legacy "was a big negative. It's a pain in the ass to have a dorm the same name as you."

"I liked Harvard of all the six schools I applied to, so I went here anyway," he says. His older sister opted not to follow the clan's well-worn path, and is now at New York University.

For others, applying to an Ivy League university raises eyebrows and generates assumptions rather than evoking family memories.

"It was funny because when the people in the town would find out I was applying to Harvard or I was going to Harvard, there was this big myth that my parents must be unbelievably rich, because it costs $28,000--no, $29,000--to go," says Matthew Davis '97.

Davis, a mathematics concentrator, grew up in rural Bronson, Mich., population 2,300 and part of Michigan's aging industrial belt. He describes his background as "fairly poor." Most people in his hometown were from similar social situations.

"Bronson as a whole is not a rich town," he says. "I wasn't coming into contact with gross discrepancies."

Few of Davis' high-school classmates dropped out, but none had ever applied to an Ivy League school either. Of his graduating class of 72, about a quarter went on to college, mainly the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. Most graduates return to Bronson to work in blue-collar or clerical, service-sector occupations.

For Davis, information about schools like Harvard came not from parents with extensive foresight but from the high-school academic track of math leagues and competitions. His father graduated from Western Michigan University; his mother did not attend college.

Prospective applicants often turn to mentors for advice, or learn about Harvard through alternative means--summer programs or accelerated academic tracks.

For Summer, the decision to come to Harvard was unexpected--she decided to apply only eight days before the January 1 deadline. She credits her application and subsequent admission to the Heritage program at Quincy High School, an alternative learning system which allowed her to tutor in the morning, take classes in the afternoon and take college classes at night--at the Harvard Extension School.

It was at the Extension School, which is attended mainly by adult students, that she met an instructor who encouraged her to apply.

"Originally, I never wanted to come to Harvard because I really thought it was a lot of nerdy, straight-laced people," she says. "I didn't have any concept of class other than my own [class]."

"No question that if you come from a blue-collar or less affluent background, you face a more difficult transition here, and also in your background and growing up you had access to far fewer resources," acknowledges William R. Fitzsimmons '67, dean of admissions and financial aid. "There's no question that the deck is stacked out there in the real world against those who come from blue-collar backgrounds. That can be seen very directly in the steep correlations between SAT scores and socioeconomic backgrounds."

Fitzsimmons notes that Harvard recruiters do seek out talented students in inner-city and rural high schools. But since these high schools generally have fewer resources, it's more difficult to find inner-city and rural students who look qualified on paper.

In addition to lack of counseling and Advanced Placement courses, students in poorer communities are also far less likely to have access to exam-preparation courses that teach strategies for doing well on standardized tests, or to be able to hire private college counselors, a tactic increasingly resorted to by anxious students.

But Fitzsimmons says the admissions staff is particularly impressed by students who have had to face difficult barriers on the path to college.

"Some people were literally beaten up for bringing books home by peers, and in many cases had to resist extreme peer pressure that would encourage people not to study," he says.

Costs and Culture

The decision to matriculate is obviously affected by a number of factors. For many, college costs weigh heavily.

Davis says that Harvard's guarantee of meeting the full financial need of all accepted students was a major component in his decision to attend.

Even for students not on financial aid, college costs were--and are still--an important consideration.

A small inheritance prevented the family of Charles C. Savage '98 from receiving financial aid from Harvard, but steep tuition costs compel the sophomore to work 15 hours a week.

"It was expected of me in a big way," says the English concentrator, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. "They were making a lot of sacrifices and it was expected that I would contribute through a term-time job and a full-time summer job."

Savage pays for all his books and living expenses, and recently purchased a computer; his parents cover tuition, room and board.

Costs are not the only prohibitive factor for middle- or working-class students deciding whether or not to attend Harvard. Many students say the glossy admissions brochures and cocktail receptions at the tony Harvard Clubs spread throughout the country intimidate rather than entice.

Still, Fitzsimmons is optimistic about Harvard's ability to attract students from different class backgrounds. "The reality is that the future leadership of this country are going to come from an increasing variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds," he said. "One of the things we are doing here is educating future leaders. Everybody has their own set of obstacles that they need to overcome."

Certainly, Harvard has come a long way since W.E.B. DuBois, unable to afford a spacious room in Harvard Yard, was forced to rent a home from an African American woman on Flagg Street, near where Mather House stands today.

In the 1930s, the introduction of the Harvard National Scholarships brought in the first large numbers of immigrant and working-class students. This trend toward financial assistance in obtaining a college degree has continued.

The latter half of the 20th century has brought not only the professionalization and standardization of curricula, but also an ostensible commitment to a degree of egalitarianism and meritocracy in America's top schools. Harvard moved to a need-blind admissions policy in the 1950s, according to Fitzsimmons.

For some, the University's efforts have succeeded in changing perceptions.

"At Eliot House there used to be valets and people who'd serve you, but [today] that's the person's view of Harvard who doesn't go to Harvard," Weld says. "It does have a collective sense of guilt about it. Its past is fairly homogeneous, which is viewed as a bad thing."

That image is fast changing, he maintains.

"Clearly it's not a communist utopia, but I don't think there's huge gaping class differences, huge problems over class," Weld says. "I think Harvard, like the Vatican, is an organization that tends to think long term, and since it seems clear that it has decided it wants a more egalitarian, diverse student body it's probably going to get it sooner or later. It's pretty close to it now."

But Harvard's elite and intimidating reputation, for others, is not too far from reality.

"I go to the Bronx every other month," Reynoso says. "Just taking the train from here--it's like I never see day-light until I get there. Going to the South Bronx is like being in two different worlds in the span of four or five hours. I have to shift my whole mentality, my whole existence. It's not just economic, but social and ethnic as well. I come here and I have to become another person."GraphicsRachel E. Kramer

What is clear, however, is that wealth, or lack of it, shapes students' experiences prior to college, the quality of undergraduate life at Harvard, and their expectations after graduation.

Same Support, Different Experience

To Jeremy W. Linzee '97, growing up poor or rich simply connotes different life experiences.

"If you come from a family with lesser means, you're never introduced to a jacket and tie or a cocktail. It's just not part of your experience," says Linzee, who grew up in Stony Brook, N.Y. That's the way I look at class, as experiences."

His father, an artist, and his mother, a stage actress, both teach in a private school. They made every attempt to provide Linzee with singular educational opportunities.

Linzee and his parents took a year off to travel around the world during high school. He traveled through Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. His trip included sojourns to his great-uncle's medieval castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and a leaf hut in Malita Island, part of the Solomon Islands.

"I was raised in a very comfortable environment," he acknowledges. "In some ways, it was a wealthy environment."

The childhood of Lauralee Summer '98 childhood was markedly different.

Born in Santa Rosa, Calif., she lived in more than 20 locations before settling in Quincy. "I'm not working-class," Summer says. "My family is poor. We had $5,000 a year and under. It was public assistance."

Raised by a single mother who supported herself on Aid to Families With Dependent Children, Summer also received a lot of attention from her mother while growing up. "What motivated me in school is that my mother is very imaginative and learning-oriented, so she would read to me and taught me about anything I wanted to know," she says.

Summer and her mother were homeless twice, while she was in the fourth and eighth grade. After attending several elementary schools, she insisted on going to one high school for all four years. "I made my mother stay in one place. I told her not to move," says Summer, who attended Quincy High School in nearby Quincy, Mass.

Despite encouragement and support from her mother, growing up poor was tough.

"There are a lot of demands just trying to take care of the everyday needs of the family," says Summer, who has several older half-siblings. "Even my mom and I going to the laundry--we don't have a washer and dryer, we don't have a car--we'd walk like eight blocks taking big, heavy bags of laundry. That would take the whole day."

Class in the Classroom

For Harvard students, these "different life experiences" often crystallized in the classroom. High school's most universal aspects--classes, teachers and tests--varied according to the socioeconomic status of the student body, easing or impairing students' paths to college admission.

Rey F. Ramos '98 from the Bronx, N.Y., attended James Monroe High School, labeled the city's worst high school by former New York City Schools chancellor Ramon C. Cortines.

Only two Monroe graduates had ever gone on to Harvard before, in 1952 and 1956, "back when the Bronx was all white," Ramos says. Today, the school's population is predominantly Puerto Rican, Dominican and African-American.

He credits his academic success to his participation in Bridge to Medicine, a program for high-school students interested in becoming doctors, sponsored by the City College of New York. He went to City College in uptown Manhattan every day after school until 5 p.m. to study chemistry, calculus and English.

Ramos characterizes his high school's guidance and college counseling resources as woefully inadequate. Only when he began to look at colleges and read up on the requirements did he hear about Achievement tests (now the SAT-II), he says.

"'What the hell are these?'" he recalls thinking. "I just accepted that I would have to work a little bit harder to try to make up for the advantages [others] already had," Ramos says. "You're limited by what you had access to beforehand."

Tserotas also says that her high school did not give her adequate academic skills for college. Rather than emphasizing accelerated intellectual accomplishment, the focus was keeping people interested--and keeping them in school.

"I never wrote a paper in high school. We watched movies," she says.

Her high school offered only three Advanced Placement courses, and few students ever scored higher than 2 out of a possible 5.

"It wasn't for lack of trying; the resources weren't there," she says.

Despite scoring a 1 in biology, a 1 in English and a 2 in calculus, Tserotas was valedictorian of her graduating class even though she had significant duties at home, being chiefly responsible for household work since age 9.

"I think I worked harder than anyone else in the school," she says.

Another student from the Bronx, Julissa Reynoso '98, was able to earn a scholarship to Aquinas High School, a private Catholic school. About 60 percent of her graduating class went on to higher education, but mostly to community colleges.

"I had never even heard of Harvard until my junior year," Reynoso says.

She was able to get her first real taste of a world outside of the South Bronx when she went to Georgetown University for a summer program.

"I had never been exposed to a world outside of South Bronx," Reynoso recalls. "Rarely did I go to downtown Manhattan where there were a lot of white people and a lot of wealthy people. There was a clear line of division between those people and where I lived."

Because of this division, upwardly mobile minority parents seeking educational opportunity for their children--or hoping to avoid the trails which faced Tserotas or Ramos--often retreat to suburbs and predominantly white high schools.

And it is primarily these students, not those of the inner-city, who attend Harvard.

"The majority of blacks I know here did not come from inner-city or predominantly black high schools, and I think that's a problem," says a senior black woman who asks not to be identified. Harvard needs to do more to recruit those students. It's also problematic of our educational system in general that inner-city schools tend to lack the resources and may not have students of the caliber or scores that Harvard uses."

Ramos agrees. "I was surprised by the amount of money students had here. I was surprised a lot of black people weren't on financial aid either. From where I was from, all the black people were poor," says the South Bronx resident, who is Puerto Rican.

Preparation

For some, the decision to apply to Harvard is obvious, expected by parents, teachers, friends and high-school guidance counselors.

Take David M. Weld '99. Weld is the latest in a long-standing pedigree of Harvard alumni--his ancestor, William Fletcher Weld, in 1873 funded the construction of first-year dormitory Weld Hall.

But the Milton Academy graduate said he was not influenced by his family's more than 170-year presence at the University and that the decision to come to Harvard was his own. For Weld, his Harvard legacy "was a big negative. It's a pain in the ass to have a dorm the same name as you."

"I liked Harvard of all the six schools I applied to, so I went here anyway," he says. His older sister opted not to follow the clan's well-worn path, and is now at New York University.

For others, applying to an Ivy League university raises eyebrows and generates assumptions rather than evoking family memories.

"It was funny because when the people in the town would find out I was applying to Harvard or I was going to Harvard, there was this big myth that my parents must be unbelievably rich, because it costs $28,000--no, $29,000--to go," says Matthew Davis '97.

Davis, a mathematics concentrator, grew up in rural Bronson, Mich., population 2,300 and part of Michigan's aging industrial belt. He describes his background as "fairly poor." Most people in his hometown were from similar social situations.

"Bronson as a whole is not a rich town," he says. "I wasn't coming into contact with gross discrepancies."

Few of Davis' high-school classmates dropped out, but none had ever applied to an Ivy League school either. Of his graduating class of 72, about a quarter went on to college, mainly the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. Most graduates return to Bronson to work in blue-collar or clerical, service-sector occupations.

For Davis, information about schools like Harvard came not from parents with extensive foresight but from the high-school academic track of math leagues and competitions. His father graduated from Western Michigan University; his mother did not attend college.

Prospective applicants often turn to mentors for advice, or learn about Harvard through alternative means--summer programs or accelerated academic tracks.

For Summer, the decision to come to Harvard was unexpected--she decided to apply only eight days before the January 1 deadline. She credits her application and subsequent admission to the Heritage program at Quincy High School, an alternative learning system which allowed her to tutor in the morning, take classes in the afternoon and take college classes at night--at the Harvard Extension School.

It was at the Extension School, which is attended mainly by adult students, that she met an instructor who encouraged her to apply.

"Originally, I never wanted to come to Harvard because I really thought it was a lot of nerdy, straight-laced people," she says. "I didn't have any concept of class other than my own [class]."

"No question that if you come from a blue-collar or less affluent background, you face a more difficult transition here, and also in your background and growing up you had access to far fewer resources," acknowledges William R. Fitzsimmons '67, dean of admissions and financial aid. "There's no question that the deck is stacked out there in the real world against those who come from blue-collar backgrounds. That can be seen very directly in the steep correlations between SAT scores and socioeconomic backgrounds."

Fitzsimmons notes that Harvard recruiters do seek out talented students in inner-city and rural high schools. But since these high schools generally have fewer resources, it's more difficult to find inner-city and rural students who look qualified on paper.

In addition to lack of counseling and Advanced Placement courses, students in poorer communities are also far less likely to have access to exam-preparation courses that teach strategies for doing well on standardized tests, or to be able to hire private college counselors, a tactic increasingly resorted to by anxious students.

But Fitzsimmons says the admissions staff is particularly impressed by students who have had to face difficult barriers on the path to college.

"Some people were literally beaten up for bringing books home by peers, and in many cases had to resist extreme peer pressure that would encourage people not to study," he says.

Costs and Culture

The decision to matriculate is obviously affected by a number of factors. For many, college costs weigh heavily.

Davis says that Harvard's guarantee of meeting the full financial need of all accepted students was a major component in his decision to attend.

Even for students not on financial aid, college costs were--and are still--an important consideration.

A small inheritance prevented the family of Charles C. Savage '98 from receiving financial aid from Harvard, but steep tuition costs compel the sophomore to work 15 hours a week.

"It was expected of me in a big way," says the English concentrator, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. "They were making a lot of sacrifices and it was expected that I would contribute through a term-time job and a full-time summer job."

Savage pays for all his books and living expenses, and recently purchased a computer; his parents cover tuition, room and board.

Costs are not the only prohibitive factor for middle- or working-class students deciding whether or not to attend Harvard. Many students say the glossy admissions brochures and cocktail receptions at the tony Harvard Clubs spread throughout the country intimidate rather than entice.

Still, Fitzsimmons is optimistic about Harvard's ability to attract students from different class backgrounds. "The reality is that the future leadership of this country are going to come from an increasing variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds," he said. "One of the things we are doing here is educating future leaders. Everybody has their own set of obstacles that they need to overcome."

Certainly, Harvard has come a long way since W.E.B. DuBois, unable to afford a spacious room in Harvard Yard, was forced to rent a home from an African American woman on Flagg Street, near where Mather House stands today.

In the 1930s, the introduction of the Harvard National Scholarships brought in the first large numbers of immigrant and working-class students. This trend toward financial assistance in obtaining a college degree has continued.

The latter half of the 20th century has brought not only the professionalization and standardization of curricula, but also an ostensible commitment to a degree of egalitarianism and meritocracy in America's top schools. Harvard moved to a need-blind admissions policy in the 1950s, according to Fitzsimmons.

For some, the University's efforts have succeeded in changing perceptions.

"At Eliot House there used to be valets and people who'd serve you, but [today] that's the person's view of Harvard who doesn't go to Harvard," Weld says. "It does have a collective sense of guilt about it. Its past is fairly homogeneous, which is viewed as a bad thing."

That image is fast changing, he maintains.

"Clearly it's not a communist utopia, but I don't think there's huge gaping class differences, huge problems over class," Weld says. "I think Harvard, like the Vatican, is an organization that tends to think long term, and since it seems clear that it has decided it wants a more egalitarian, diverse student body it's probably going to get it sooner or later. It's pretty close to it now."

But Harvard's elite and intimidating reputation, for others, is not too far from reality.

"I go to the Bronx every other month," Reynoso says. "Just taking the train from here--it's like I never see day-light until I get there. Going to the South Bronx is like being in two different worlds in the span of four or five hours. I have to shift my whole mentality, my whole existence. It's not just economic, but social and ethnic as well. I come here and I have to become another person."GraphicsRachel E. Kramer

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