Thursday, January 27, 2005

Harvard Men

I've lately read a few books by Harvard graduates years younger than myself: Seth Mnookin's Hard News, and now Arthur Phillips's The Egyptologist. Where once I would have been jealous of their achievements, I have gotten to the stage of life where I can salute them and feel a kinship with them.
Harvard shapes all of us who spend time as students there, regardless of what we do afterward. I know that most of my closest friends throughout my life are those I made during my four years in Cambridge. I feel a kinship with them unlike the bond I have with any other friends.
Why? Hard to say.
Maybe it is that during our years at Harvard, we felt that we could be important in the world and to the world -- even as we were daily being humbled by the brilliance of our colleagues. We talked openly about our aspirations in ways that I have rarely done since, even with my wife.
There was the shared accomplishment of having been admitted to the college, coupled with an atmosphere that was all about aspirations.
Not to mention that we were at that formative stage of adulthood where most of us were trying to figure out where we belonged, thrown together in a living situation largely devoid of supervision by "responsible" adults, making choices at 17 or 18 that today stagger me when I think back.
For several years after I was graduated, I was reluctant to tell people where I had gone to university. "In Boston," I'd mutter, until pressed to acknowledge that my alma mater was indeed the venerated Harvard. I was embarrassed by the reactions, and embarrassed that I had not achieved more by the ripe old age of 23 or 24.
It was only after I had moved to Florida and met peers who were genuinely curious about my background and history that I started to become comfortable talking about my education. Today, more than 30 years after I entered university, I look back very fondly on those years and happily discuss them with any who ask.
It took me time to grow into my Harvard education, to become comfortable with the man it had helped to shape and with the ways in which it had opened my eyes to experience.
Yes, I have in many ways lived a cautious life -- I've always had a salaried job, with a steady paycheck and the usual benefits -- but I have changed careers and explored my options within those boundaries in ways I might not have done without the eye-opening experience of four years in Cambridge.