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Geographically speaking, the Idaho Capitol Building where I work is about 200 miles from Harvard--Harvard, Idaho, that is. In fact, when the governor was told his new intern was from Harvard, he assumed I was from "up north." This left the chief of staff at a loss--"Well, actually, governor, the other Harvard."
If the governor had some doubts about where I was from, no one else seemed to. In fact, in his error, the governor allowed me the rare opportunity to get in front of the Harvard label. When I came home from my first day of work in the governor's office, I remarked sarcastically to my parents that things might be simpler if I just got a big red "H" tattooed on my forehead. I felt like I had been robbed of the chance to make a first impression: the world Harvard had made enough impression for both of us.
Every staff member knew me as the intern from Harvard. The other intern resented the fact that I'd gotten the best desk despite arriving later--and she was sure my school was the reason. At the first lunch hour, everyone asked what it was like to go to Harvard and then made some joke about how smart I must be. Everybody was friendly, but their discomfort was obvious. I began to wonder if my forehead had grown that big red tattoo on its own accord.
It got worse when I was introduced to people from the state agencies or lobbying groups. My boss would introduce me and the people would ask where I was from. If I dared to answer with the name of my hometown, I received quick correction. "No," my boss would say, "tell them where you go to school."
At the end of the day, I sighed with relief as I headed to my second job teaching swimming. The pool owner has known me for years, so I wouldn't have to worry about ducking the H-bomb.
While my students are enjoying free time, a parent calls me over. But instead of asking about his kid's flip turn, he makes a comment about Hahvahd. I am taken aback: the owner must have been bragging. The murmur of conversation in our area has died: all ears are on me. I smile and respond, then try to get my concentration back to where it should be: my swim class. On the way home, I see college decals in the back windows of other cars: University of Idaho, Pullman University, BYU. I promise myself never to buy a Harvard decal. The big red tattoo on my forehead is more than enough identification.
And on it goes. One fellow who has worked in the Governor's office far longer than I have asks me how to do things and follows my advice even when it conflicts with his judgment. If I question his uncritical acceptance, I'm told, "Well, you go to Harvard." There are small victories that keep me from screaming. Like when the snot from the EPA asked sneeringly what state school I attended and I was able to answer, "Actually, I go to Harvard University." But even the victories hinge on the clever use of Harvard's reputation. No matter how or where or why I say that name, it provokes a response. I have given up trying to compete with Harvard for the chance to make the first impression. It is a Herculean task, and I, despite what people seem to think, do not go to school on Mount Olympus. The irony of it all is that this summer, I had hoped to take a break from being a Harvard student, something I haven't done since I began college. I packed my bags and flew 2,000 miles away, only to realize that you don't escape it that easily.
There's a reason some people call the school "Mother Harvard." In many ways, she gives you her name for your own.
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