Revenge of the Nerd

Andrew Warshall is a nerd, and proud of it. When comparison shopping for colleges in Cambridge four years ago, Tad,

Andrew Warshall is a nerd, and proud of it. When comparison shopping for colleges in Cambridge four years ago, Tad, as he is commonly called, felt that MIT tried too hard to prove itself, with brochures desperately screaming, “It’s not true that everyone here is a nerd!” Warshall ruminates, “If you actually want to be a nerd, it’s not the place for you.”

That’s how Tad ended up at Harvard. A math concentrator (“I’ve never tried anything else”) and “second-generation mathematician,” Tad prefaces explanations of his courseload with such weighty questions as, “You did take calculus, right?” Far from simply finding the area under the curve, Tad is taking Math 135: Differential Topology, Math 191: Mathematical Probability, and Math 212: Functions of a Real Variable this semester. Conveniently, all three meet in the same room: Science Center 310.

Warshall deftly slides into one of the Science Center cubicles sporting a full, bushy beard and a well-worn Phillips Andover cap. He fidgets in his chair, intensely concentrating on the desk’s surface as he formulates his responses. He muses upon his dichotomous role as math concentrator and Jew, navigating between the Science Center and Hillel. “Both groups think I belong to the other group,” he explains while anxiously fingering his Andover ring. “But it’s good for no one to say they own you.”

Someone attempted to discover Warshall’s true place for him his freshman year, when a rumor circulated that Fortune had ranked him the smartest kid in America. Warshall, perplexed, researched the claim, but didn’t find any evidence to support it. “People were taking me seriously enough to make up rumors,” he concludes.

In opposition to these spurious accolades, Warshall nervously clasps his hands and modestly confesses, “I don’t get the impression I’m the smartest math person here.” He has claimed no math-related awards since matriculating at Harvard, but at Phillips he attended MOSP (please, the “s” is silent) —the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program hosted by the U.S. Math Team (“as important as Olympic athletes”) at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “We did math about 40 hours a week,” he states proudly.

During his down time Tad is fond of playing bridge, general laziness and “The Simpsons.” He declares no music or literary interests, and jokingly declares his group of friends to be “an empty or non-empty set.”

Tad speaks lovingly of the “flights of fancy” scribbled across the blackboards of 310, and shuns any suggestions that math is a waste of time and chalk. “Why is anyone doing anything instead of going to Africa and feeding the poor?” he demands while gesticulating wildly. “Someone needs to do math. You need to do math to do all the other subjects people say are useful.”

Currently applying to math grad schools, Tad contemplates how “it might be pleasant to be a mathematician, to think deep thoughts.” In the meantime, he stands by his nerd identity. “You take a word that people use against you...[and then] they have to invent a new word.” And what might that word be? “’Dork’ has been experiencing a cross-over,” he replies with an enigmatic smile.