I accompanied my son down to The Harvard Club Saturday morning for his college interview with the venerable and esteemed institution represented by that establishment.
We had not given much thought to Harvard when reviewing college possibilities. It seemed to be a larger place than Joel really wanted to attend and, furthermore, too steeped in tradition and too closely tied to "Establishment" values to be a good fit with Joel's personality.
We were, however, encouraged to reconsider our first instincts and to be more open-minded about Harvard by a recent graduate who called as part of a telephone sweep of high-SAT-scoring high school seniors. She told Bev, who took the call, that she had found Harvard to be a much different place than she had expected from what she'd heard about it. So Joel ended up applying to Harvard with, however, very little expectation that anything would come of it.
An interview appointment did come of it, though, and we found ourselves getting up earlier than usual Saturday morning to make it to the meeting at 10 AM. Joel has been getting less nervous, more assured, as he has weathered his college interviews. He approached this one with little of the trepidation attendant upon his first interview, with Brown, a couple of weeks ago. The fact that he doesn't have fervent hopes of getting into Harvard eased his mind.
Up until the time we walked up to the front door it hadn't occurred to me that we were going to be visiting the Harvard Club. All we had was an address and I hadn't thought about it much. Entering the place I had the impression of entering another era.
I am old enough (and bourgeois enough) to have been reared to have an immediate, almost Pavlovian, reaction of deference in the presence of old-style displays of wealth and power. I offer in evidence Exhibit A, an early photograph of me in "perfect little gentleman" mode. Joel, as far as I can tell, has no trace of such deference, much to his credit. The Harvard Club, built over a hundred years ago, seems very much an expression of wealth and power. I was cowed. Joel was not.
Although we only considered this later we were not dressed up to code. We were both wearing jeans. Joel was weaing Army-surplus boots. It was apparent to me that other kids who had shown up for interviews had given more consideration to their wardrobes. I saw ties, dresses, shined shoes. Joel was oblivious.
Everyone who spoke to us was unfailingly nice and pleasant. I detected no condescension or distance from anyone in the building. It wasn't the people, it was the architecture and the decor that made me feel as if I had to walk on eggshells.
I waited for Joel in a room that reminded me of the "Gentlemen's Clubs" I'd seen in period movies. After about forty minutes Joel emerged from his interview with two alumni and we headed out the building. I waited until we were half a block away before I asked him how it had gone.
He had done pretty well, he thought. He was relaxed, even cracked a few jokes. He was surprised, though, that they hadn't asked him why he wanted to go to Harvard; every other school interview had included that question. It was understandable that his interviewers had not heard of Bard High School Early College but they seemed not even to have heard of Bard! When they had asked him about BHSEC he told them about the college-level seminars he had taken, citing a class in Latin American History for which he had written a paper about Liberation Theology from the 1960's to the 1990's. This didn't seem to register with them, either. From Joel's description of their reaction I wonder if they knew what he was talking about. At another point in the interview they needed Joel to explain to them his references to John Cage's 4'33" (a subject, by the way, about which Joel can be very funny) and then to explain to them who John Cage was. Joel was surprised. I was surprised.
"Joel, did these people tell you what they do?" I asked.
"Yeah, they gave me their cards. They're investment bankers." Joel answered.
We can't judge Harvard simply by these two people, of course. In the event that Joel is accepted we will visit the campus, talk to any students and faculty we can find, do our research. It is clear to me, though, that whatever impression of Joel Harvard has garnered from this interview it did not enhance Joel's opinion of Harvard.
I'm sort of surprised.