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Suzanne Pomey's Harvard

Decline and Fall

By Ross G. Douthat, ROSS G. DOUTHAT

Everyone has their own story about Suzanne M. Pomey ’02, the well-known Winthrop senior accused of stealing a hefty chunk of cash from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Mine concerns invisibility—specifically, my own. We had good friends in common, Suzanne and I, and so we saw each other at parties, in Winthrop suites, at bars, on the street. But we never spoke to one another, beyond the barest pleasantries. Or, more aptly, she never spoke to me.

Then we were both named to FM’s annual list of 15 “intriguing” seniors, and suddenly she decided that we needed to be more chummy. “Hiii, intriguing person,” she would coo. “Hiii, Suzanne,” I would coo back. Those were heady times.

Perhaps this amusing experience—feeling my social stock rise just high enough for Pomey to try charming me—explains why I am so terribly, horribly fascinated by the story of her apparent fall from grace. This is said, I should add, with all due respect to Randy Gomes '02, her alleged partner in crime. Gomes is doubtless fascinating on his own account, but he lacks the qualities that have made Pomey the swirling center of this story. Pomey is, after all, one of Harvard’s campus celebrities—a former president of Kappa Alpha Theta, a founding member of Isis, a PBHA stalwart, a Hasty Pudding show producer and the girl who famously french-kissed Anthony Hopkins. She was quite intriguing even before being indicted for allegedly pilfering over $100,000 from the Pudding.

I’m sure there are people who will read this litany of accomplishments and ask why. She had everything going for her—why would she (allegedly) do something so foolish? But these are people who don’t understand the nature of Harvard’s social landscape—and the nature of the carefully-culled, selecter-than-select population that inhabits it.

Modern Harvard, we are frequently told, embodies meritocratic ideals—people are accepted here because they are the best of the best, and nothing else. In practical terms, this means that we are surrounded by an incredibly talented and interesting cross-section of classmates; hence the cliche about the best Harvard education taking place “outside the classroom.”

But meritocracy also means that Harvard students have to be incredibly ambitious and incredibly driven: we are a Darwinist’s delight, superbly adapted to vanquish every competitor.

In the Harvardian universe, then, the advantage often goes—at least in the short term—to the manipulative and dishonest and cutthroat, the people willing to backstab and lie and cheat their way upwards. At Harvard, meaningless club elections swirl with intrigue and rumors of unethical tactics, and Undergraduate Council vice presidents nearly get impeached for breaking election rules. And almost everyone knows someone who overreached—someone who alienated too many people, or told one too many lies, or cut too many corners and collided with the Ad Board.

This leaves aside, too, the ambitious sociopaths who aren’t actually accepted to Harvard, but find their way here anyway—like Ed Meinert “’02” and Philip Shaw “’03”, both of whom recently posed as undergrads, joined campus organizations, and tried to rush the Sigma Chi fraternity. These less-ambitious versions of Suzanne Pomeys may have not been Harvard men in name, but they were in spirit, proving that even a rejection letter doesn’t always dampen the Darwinian fire.

The higher one climbs, meanwhile, the worse it becomes. If Harvard as a whole is a pathological place crawling with cutthroat people, then elite Harvard, land of final club boys and their swan-necked women, is just as cutthroat—only with heaps of money thrown in. There, success does not merely require unbridled ambition, it requires a steady infusion of cash. Whether you are picking up a tab at the Red Line or Daedalus, forking over the cover at Axis and Avalon, arranging that intersession trip to Barcelona or Rio de Janeiro, or shelling out for the latest designer drug, the social world of Harvard children (with apologies to Robert Coles) costs a pretty penny to inhabit.

No one could have known this better than Pomey, whose notable undergraduate moments, according to friends and colleagues, include producing the cash to rent out Locke-Ober for a Theta-Delphic mixer, holding an open-bar birthday bash at T.G.I. Friday’s (paid for, they say, by her good friend Gomes), and helping to co-found Isis, that all-female and quite expensive answer to the Porcellian and the Fly. She made herself intriguing and famous—and in the end, the money had to come from somewhere.

Money can’t buy you love, though, or so the Beatles said. It’s telling that in spite of her parties and clubs and endless activities, hardly anyone has stepped forward to defend Pomey. Theta’s sisterhood has distanced themselves from their erstwhile president, the priestesses of Isis decline comment, and the Hasty Puddingers—well, they’re the ones who turned her in. What this says about the nature of Harvard “popularity” is enough to make you shudder.

For her part, the former Theta prez and Isis girl stayed true to form until the end. On Saturday night, a red-clad Pomey cruised through the Hong Kong—causing quite the stir, needless to say. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...

Ross G. Douthat ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Quincy House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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