The Best Kaavya Article

(Really. Believe me. Keep reading.)

Admit it. Unless your name is Mark Zuckerberg, you were a little jealous of Kaavya’s success. And who can blame you? As a sophomore, she signed a book deal worth a reported 240,962 slices of Pinocchio’s pizza. But then came the allegations of plagiarism. While most students reserved their judgment until more facts arrived (or at least until they saw her profile), there undeniably were students who took pleasure from her downfall. Celebrations ranged from a quick, restrained smirk to massive book-burning sessions complete with high-fives and marriage proposals.

While I’m sure many of you are hoping for yet another column on Kaavya, I’m instead going to offer some thoughts on a more serious problem confronting students at Harvard that has been magnified by this “scandal”: the lack of ketchup available in the dining halls. Just kidding. While I’m sure the condiment crisis is uppermost on everyone’s mind, what I’m really going to comment about is an issue that has come up quite a lot since the Kaavya story broke: competition at Harvard.

Harvard is full of students who used to be the “best” in high school. Whether it was in academics, arts, athletics, or wealth, all of us excelled in at least one of these areas, making us stand out in the eyes of the Harvard admissions office. We were school presidents, team captains, and students whose combined GPA and SAT scores were slightly greater than the GDP of some third world countries. I, for instance, stood out in high school because I once threw a frozen squirrel through a window. We were typically involved in an absurd amount of extracurricular activities. From varsity captain to lead in the play to president of the cheese club, it seems like everyone here did something in high school that was worthy of its own page in the yearbook. If you’re reading this at Harvard, the probability that you were an editor of your school newspaper is approximately equal to the chances that you can read English.

Of course, when you take the “best” and put them in a college where everyone was the “best,” suddenly most of us don’t stand out in the way to which we are accustomed. It took me a long time to get used to the fact that there were some other students here who had thrown not one but two frozen squirrels through windows in their high school. Our competitive sides develop as we strive to stand out in a school of 6,000 brilliant, accomplished people. As soon as we see the unfamiliar sight of someone not only beating us, but doing so in impressive fashion, the impulse to resort to unethical behavior is almost overpowering. Some favorite tactics that I’ve seen include giving a fellow student a study guide with intentionally false information, or telling a classmate that the location of his final exam had been moved from Emerson to a different location in a remote part of the campus. (I’ll admit that I saw through that trick…too bad I didn’t figure it out until I was four stops inbound on the Red Line). Sometimes, guys who are jealous of their roommate’s Crimson column will go on his computer behind his back and try to sabotage him by inserting deprecating comments in his articles right before he submits it to his editor. This never happens to me, however, because I am a big, fat, dumb idiot who snores.

High school was competitive because your performance could directly affect your chances of getting admitted into colleges. In college, though, goals for the future are not as concrete. As a result, you begin fearing that your present performance will affect all facets of your future life. In high school: “Damn! A C+! There go my chances at getting into school X.” In college: “Damn! A C+! There go my chances of affording three meals a day and falling in love.”

With so many type-A personalities at Harvard, academic competition quickly becomes old hat, and rivalry metastasizes to all aspects of our college lives. Guys, for instance, will compete over who can outlast their roommates until the loser, concerned about reintroducing the bubonic plague in the 21st century, takes out the trash. Girls are incredibly competitive as well, as they constantly strive to have the “cutest” (most uncomfortable) shoes, or the swankiest designer handbags from Blueberry or Eight of Spades (or something like that). Many Harvard students spend an incredible amount of time worrying about “standing out,” yet these same people will spend $75 on a collared shirt just so they can have the same little pony emblem as everyone else.

It seems that we all want simultaneously to be different and yet the same as others. Well, I’ve got some good news for you: no matter what, everyone is always going to be different, and that’s what makes all of us the same. So maybe we should start caring more about how we view ourselves, and less about how we compare to our friends, classmates, and the women from “Sex and the City.” So I suggest that you follow my example and try to stay uncompetitive. Again, I’m sorry for not focusing on Kaavya in this column. I just couldn’t bring myself to give more attention to a fellow writer who has sold more books than I have.

Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears regularly.