Nearly three dozen undergraduate students travelled to Sanders Theatre anticipating a lecture from former President George W. Bush on “Consulting and Greed” on a chilly Saturday afternoon — only to be met with Harvard Alumni Association security guards, disappointment, and, for some, embarrassment.
Harvard undergraduates received an email advertising the event a week earlier on Sunday, Oct. 7. The sender — whose identity remains unknown — labeled itself "the Harvard College Consulting Group," a campus organization that helps prepare undergraduates for careers in consulting. (HCCG has denied sending the email and says they do not know who the prankster is.)
“Join HCCG and President Bush as we explore consulting’s ethical position in society and learn best practices from President Bush’s illustrious presidential terms and political career,” the email read.
“I thought it was a really cool opportunity,” Alexander Koller ’22 said. “My friends applied to do this. A lot of people got rejected, so it seemed legitimate.”
After signing up, accepted students received a follow-up email informing them they were fortunate enough to be one of 900 students selected to attend the event — beating out others scores of others in a total applicant pool of 2,000. Email recipients were instructed to report to Sanders Theatre early and to prepare for “security lines” and “media presence.”
When students arrived, Bush wasn't there. Instead, they found members of Harvard's security corps, who informed them the Theatre was booked for a private Harvard Alumni Association event.
“A Securitas Guard with a bright yellow jacket told us, ‘Sorry folks! It’s a hoax. You can’t go in,’” Hannah A.J. Eckstein ’21 said.
Shortly after the fake event was slated to begin, students received a final email from the pranksters.
“Look, we get it. You’re upset. The event was fake, and we wasted your time. But how do you know consulting isn’t a bigger waste of time?” they wrote. “Sign out of LinkedIn. There’s so much more waiting for you.”
In an emailed statement, Anton Ulyanov ’19, the president of HCCG, denied any affiliation with the event and said he was frustrated that it caused “confusion.”
“HCCG is disappointed that an unknown party attempted to impersonate the organization and misuse its name,” Ulyanov wrote. “We understand that consulting isn’t for everyone.”
Students offered mixed reactions to the prank but none denied its success. Some praised the tricksters' ingenuity; others laughed in self-deprecation.
“I did not have any suspicions that it might not be real,” Michael C. Huang ’20 said. “Honestly, this is kind of cool. I have a certain respect for somebody who can pull off a stunt of this caliber. I’m kind of okay that I got punked.”
Duha H. Alfatlawi ’21 was less pleased.
“It’s embarrassing. We’re fools,” she said.
Other students wondered who might be behind the prank and sought to guess at the fibber's motives.
“Not many people came,” Alfatlawi observed. “Even I was thinking, ‘Are you sure it’s today?’ when we were getting off of the bus.”
Students speculated that the Harvard Lampoon or Satire V, two campus humor outlets, may be responsible.
The Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine, did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor-in-Chief of Satire V Catherine Y. Zhang ’19 wrote in an emailed response: “lol.”
A spokesperson from the Office of George W. Bush did not respond to a request for comment.