PARTING SHOTS: Of Childhood, Conjectures, and Coming Full Circle

The teacher rises, clasping her hands together and smiling. For the past 10 minutes, the seventh grade has been struggling to answer a single question, and here in this red brick building on East 22nd Street, time is almost up.

Amid the tapping of pencils and the tugging of clip-on ties, answers finally trickle in.

There are a few policemen, it seems, some New York Yankees, an heir to the family restaurant, and a pet shop owner. Sometimes, there are special combinations, like fireman-chef. As per the custom, every answer will be posted on the classroom walls.

In the third row, one 12-year-old boy looks down at his desk, fidgeting and uneasy.

The boy loves macaroni and cheese. His favorite television show, “Gargoyles,” was recently cancelled, and he still cannot understand why.

He has come to grips with the fact that he will never play professional basketball.

At last, the teacher comes around to him.

“How about you?” she asks. “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

The boy fiddles with his sheet of looseleaf. He says that in 2007, he will be graduating from Harvard.

* * *

Somewhere in the back of my mind—buried deep beneath Positive Psychology lectures and the term “mandibular fenestra”—was this, the reality that I orally committed to my alma mater in Language Arts.

I was that kid in the third row, and I had forgotten about it until my mother called me last week to say that she had found the original piece of paper. My reaction might best be described as “amused yet terrified.”

No, by no means was I an obsessed, crimson-adorned preteen. My parents did not pressure me into making such a forecast. I was not already cramming for the SATs. All I knew, like so many others, was the school’s name and reputation.

It was a crude calculus that might put off classmates who stumbled across this place in high school or conducted an exhaustive search of colleges and found this one to fit best.

Call my approach, executed by 12-year-old me, the Don Mattingly Effect: If some kid is going to go play for the Yankees, why can’t I attend Harvard? And be pre-med, and play for both the basketball and soccer teams, all of which I also absurdly prophesied?

My teacher didn’t quite know how to react. After talking to my mom, I didn’t either.

There was the basic fact that I was thinking about higher education as a seventh-grader. And then, there was the specificity, tinged with a hint of arrogance, as if I actually had a 10-year plan in mind.

But there was no plan.

Did the kid who wanted to fight fires/carve steaks sit down and really think about career trajectory?

* * *

The courtyard of Quincy House is a beautiful place, a stretch of brick and foliage that opens up to Plympton Street. It touches every part of the dormitory, welcoming and directing residents to the dining hall and their respective entryways.

In the waning days of my senior year at Harvard, 21-year-old me sat there, charged with the task of writing what I would like the House to announce about my time here—honors, extracurriculars, and so forth—come graduation.

As it happens, I wrote for The Crimson for four years. Sometimes, I engaged serious topics like sports and race. Other times, I invited troubled basketball player Ron Artest to speak at Class Day and called for the creation of a SlamBall court at the MAC. Towards the end, I blogged.

Yet I did other things, too, which will never be so commemorated.

I made good friends from places I’d never encountered before (the Midwest, for example). I was consistently impressed by the intelligence and skill of others, whether it was in field hockey, lab research, or singing. I studied, of course, pulling all-nighters to finish my thesis and memorize the images of Alexander the Great. I fell in love. I had a lot of fun. And to my parents’ chagrin, I ate breakfast sparingly.

Now, as my time draws to a close, part of me guiltily wishes that there was an equivalent 10-year prediction to be made.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one. It is 2007, somehow, and it is time for everyone to hang what they’ve done on the walls and move on.

Now, as then, it won’t be easy.

—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at