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The Final Column

Decline and Fall

By Ross G. Douthat

Ever since my first Harvard spring, when I was still a bashful, beardless freshman, I’ve cultivated a passionate dislike for the maudlin, overwrought essays that senior Crimson columnists tend to pen as graduation nears.

You know what I mean, I’m sure. There are the interminable columns dedicated to celebrating roommates and blockmates, boyfriends and professors and everyone else who made life at Harvard so darn fun and interesting and fabulous (’cause it’s what you learn outside the classroom that counts, right?) There are the awful, predictable theme columns—Fifteen Lessons Harvard Has Taught Me, or Sixty-Eight Life-Changing Things to Do Before You Graduate. And then there are the weirdly angry columns that crop up from time to time—How Harvard Does Women/Blacks/Conservatives/Me Wrong, Why I Hate Everyone Here and so forth.

I promised myself that I would never produce such a piece, needless to say. True, these may be the final words that I write at Harvard (give or take an exam booklet), but I refuse to succumb to sentiment. There will be no leisurely strolls down memory lane, no wistful reminiscing about Our Vanished Youth, and certainly no tedious shout-outs to roommates, friends and sundry others. This will doubtless come as disappointing surprise to the merry band in Quincy 616 and 613 (sorry, Alex and Tuttle and Praveen and Brian and Andy and Josh and Allen) and perhaps to others of significance (forgive me, Abby). But standards must be upheld, even when on the brink of the apocalypse.

Not only that, I absolutely refuse to include in this column any tedious, self-indulgent inside jokes, aimed at providing intense amusement to my intimates and irritating the heck out of everyone else. So there will be no mention of Wayne Barry Hill III, the Ross-Douthat-door-unlock, gibbons and seals, the Symposium, or Cake. And I’m not going to talk about my entirely fictional lisp.

I will dispense no advice of any flavor to my classmates, or to those lucky underclassmen who will inherit our university next fall. I absolutely refuse to recommend the best cheap restaurant in the Square (it’s Charlie’s Kitchen—order their hamburger platter!), or the best karaoke bar in Boston (the Purple Shamrock by Faneuil Hall—look for the fat, pelvic-thrusting thirty-something singing “I Be Strokin”), or the best place to see a movie for less than nine bucks (Kendall Theater in Davis Square—it’s decorated with creepy owl statues), or the person everyone should cast their vote for come the ’04 election (you probably know my answer to this one).

In addition, tempting though it may be, I’ll spare everyone a laundry list of parting zingers, directed at the various groups and people who have made Harvard such a fascinating and absurd place to write about. The list is too long anyway to do them any kind of justice—so I will just say hail and farewell to (among others) the PSLM, the BGLTSA, the editorial board of this fine paper, everyone at Tufts, Neil Rudenstine, Cornel West and yes, poor Suzanne Pomey. Without these fine people and their antics, I might have been reduced to writing about dining hall food, or the UC, or Tim McCarthy, Quincy House’s tragically ubiquitous Chomskyite tutor. (Sorry, Tim, but I can’t give you a shout-out, either—standards, you know.)

I’ll likewise refrain from ranting on, at tedious length, about what’s horribly wrong with Harvard. So there will be no final, impassioned attacks on the Core Curriculum (‘Worst . . idea . . .ever’), or on the wickedness of Senior Gift (it’s too late, anyway), or on the University’s blinkered pursuit of cosmetic (i.e. racial) pluralism at the expense of any socio-economic and intellectual diversity—both of which ought to be slightly more important than whether we decide to fund a Committee on Chicano Studies, don’t you think? Just asking...or I would be, if I were writing that kind of column.

I absolutely refuse to kvetch about Things I Wish I’d Done (gone to more football games, spent less money at Store 24 freshman year, spent less money generally), Girls I Wish I’d Dated (are you listening, Padme Amidala, Senator from Naboo?), Clubs I Wish I’d Been Asked to Join (the Fly, the Porcellian, the Signet, the Pudding . . . heck, any of them would have been nice), People That I Wish I’d Punched (there’s still time for us to rumble, Jason T. Sauer ’02), or Awful, High-Paying Consulting and I-Banking Jobs That I’m Glad I Don’t Have (honestly, I swear—I like buying lottery tickets).

I won’t list all the little things I will miss the least about Harvard—sleeping through lecture, failing to sleep through section, the dryness of the campus before you turn twenty-one (ah, blessed day), the ruined faces of 5 a.m. computer lab-frequenters, the Lampoon (still not funny, people), the glum, interminable, yet snowless winters, the price of books at the Coop, the price of everything in the Square, the existence of Abercrombie and Fitch, the word ‘discourse’ and yes, even now, Cornel West.

And nor, finally, will I descend into sentiment and list the things I’ll be sorry to leave behind—the madness and hubbub, the predictably awful yet somehow comforting social scene, my peculiar, always fascinating classmates...and above all, perhaps, the beauty of the place, and the way the red-brick grandeur along the river glows, faintly, in the slanting, failing light of a late-spring evening.

I will say, though, that I will miss Harvard very, very much.

Or perhaps you have gathered that already.

Ross G. Douthat ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Quincy House. This is his final column.

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