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A New Chance for the Old Boys Network

By Victoria C. Hallett, Crimson Staff Writer

Members of the Porcellian club, the oldest and most prestigious of Harvard's eight all-male final clubs, are notoriously hush-hush about affairs in their clubhouse at 1324 Mass. Ave.

The most famous tale of club lore: the Porcellian presents all members who have not yet achieved economic success by age 30 with an expensive birthday gift--$1 million.

Although this story may be more legend than actual tradition, there is a history of final club members helping younger members survive and succeed in their post-Harvard careers and lives.

For decades, undergraduates and graduates would mingle at the clubs at dinners or other events and form connections that led to job opportunities.

One of the Porcellian's nicknames is the Piggy Bank, appropriate not only for its members' wealth, but also for a shared line of work--investment banking.

But in recent years, changing memberships and alumni attitudes have weakened the clubs' networking power.

Interclub Council President Douglas W. Sears '69 says clubs have plugged undergraduates into extensive networks in the past, but today's reality is quite different.

"The shame, or the irony of it all, is that it no longer happens," Sears says. "What you would find would not be quantitatively different from other [Harvard] organizations."

In early years, graduates would stop by for a meal or a drink and end up mingling with the undergraduates, giving them a leg up in the business world in the process.

Sears recalls many alumni stopping by during his years as an undergraduate. Mostly, they came to visit the club steward, who had been at the club when they were students.

"[The steward] would set up a bar, put on a white coat and mix drinks," says Sears, who remembers hearing graduates reminisce about the horse-drawn carriages that had once rolled past the club.

A current club member says graduates often speak about the earlier days of the clubs as a family.

"They would drink fine wine, enjoy good meals and set up job opportunities," he says.

But in today's fast-paced world, alumni have prioritized their own families and careers over brandy and conversation on Mt. Auburn Street.

"People don't have the time or lifestyle any more," Sears says. "That's completely not '90s--not '80s even."

Another factor preventing the networking of days past is the strain on member-alumni relations after recent developments.

Over the past two decades, as clubs opened doors to non-members for the first time and created a more outwardly social atmosphere, they became predominantly undergraduate-oriented.

When student members began to view the clubs as party spots, they lost interest in the bonds older and younger club members once had, Sears says.

One current final club member similarly says he does not know anyone who has either attempted or managed to get a job through club connections.

But last semester, in an attempt to return the clubs to their roots, graduates clamped down on loose guest policies, effectively banning non-members from clubs.

The future of club networking holds promise for a reversal, according to Sears.

With clubs focusing more attention on intra-club activity, Sears predicts networking may resume, and already some clubs are planning events to reconnect the generations.

This year, Fly club members can attend a series of fireside chats in which successful graduate members return to meet with the undergraduates and give them advice.

And according to sources, the electronic bulletin board on the Fox Web site is filled with job offers for club members.

But some are still trying to deflect the "old boys' club" image, and A.D. club graduate president Patrick Grant Jr. '70 says any networking occurring at the A.D. is unintentional.

"I don't think there's any sort of plan, but every now and then it probably happens," he says.

Grant adds that networking would be almost impossible because the A.D. does not compile a comprehensive address and job list of its alumni--and, he claims, it never has.

"I was there in 1970 and there was no networking whatsoever," Grant maintains. "I don't think it's changed one iota."

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