When we're on campus, our school pride has few opportunities to surface. We certainly feel it at the Game, amidst raucous chants of "safe-ty school." We might get a sense of it when we hear about annual college rankings or read about prizes won by students or faculty members. But most days, we forget about the Harvard part of our identities, because all of us have it. It isn't until we leave campus that we recognize how our Harvard affiliation dominates the way we are perceived by others.
Whether or not our Harvard experiences have actually inflated or deflated our egos, all of us, quite legitimately, take a little bit of pride in our pedigree. Problems arise when we expect more from others because of our Harvard backgrounds.
While in New York this summer, I met up with a Harvard grad who told me about a run-in he had had with his boss (who has no Harvard connection). He told me he had come up with an effective, creative solution to improve a database. "My boss took my ideas and even praised them. I thought I would be given more responsibilities on the next deal, but I was given the same mundane work as the other first-year analysts," he said. My friend then told his boss he wanted more challenging work.That didn't go over so well. "[The boss] just exploded and went off about how Harvard students think they deserve everything on a silver platter. He told me that backgrounds don't matter in this business and that I should just get my work done quickly and stop complaining," he said.
Towards the end of a conversation I had with another Harvard grad and former Marshall Scholar, he remarked, "You spend four years at Harvard and then the rest of your life clinging to it." He recounted the challenges of being caught between living up to the Harvard name and constantly playing it down to his non-Harvard colleagues. "The less you think about your Harvard legacy, the easier it becomes to cooperate with people with a variety of backgrounds," he continued. His attitude had brought him ten years of success in business, but he confessed to me that covering up his Harvard pride was a continual struggle.
To better prepare ourselves for a decidedly non-Harvard world, we have to get past the notion that we deserve a certain level of respect or a certain level of anything, simply because we're from Harvard.
This idea no doubt flourishes on campus. During our years at Harvard, we go about our lives with a certain degree of assumed credibility. Common to both the driven student and the slacker is an underlying sense of self-confidence that comes from simply gaining admittance to the most prestigious university in the world. It is generally acknowledged that differences in success at college (whether in terms of GPA or otherwise) are based more on disparities in work ethic and motivation than in our abilities or intellect.
We may not be aware of it, but a sense of Harvard pride grows in us from the day we receive our acceptance letters. It can be beneficial for us while we're here. The thought "I am at Harvard, ergo I am golden" helps us get through unsatisfactory grades, disappointing auditions and unsuccessful interviews. Because our let-downs operate within the context of being a Harvard student, as long as we can maintain perspective, life is usually manageable.
Our Harvard pride (or at the very least, a sense of differentiation from everyone else) is reinforced on a regular basis by the vocabularies and traditions we adopt during our time here. Harvard loves its history, and has its own terms to accentuate its uniqueness. Our Houses, concentrations and Allston Burr Senior Tutors are all part of the Harvard College package, unavailable at the college nearest you. We get used to daily visits by world leaders and national figures, and sightings of celebrity classmates scarcely turn our heads.
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