Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Harvard Nostalgia

The older I get, the more I think back to Harvard with nostalgia.  I was very young at Harvard.  I went to college straight out of the 10th grade, and I graduated at the age of 19.  That officially makes me a high school drop-out. 

I lived my teenage years in crimson, with the usual teenage crises, stumbling to figure out how to grow up faster than I should have.  It was an exhilarating age of discovery and almost reckless ambition.  

My years at Harvard had nothing to do with preparing for a job, not even at Harvard Law School.  They were years of general education, following the classic liberal arts curricula.  I went to bed almost every night with Shakespeare.  Harvard is where we were learning hard lessons, groping to try to be masters of our own fate.  

I have a few regrets.  I wish I had stayed at Harvard longer.  Why did I feel it time to graduate at 19?  Why didn't I just pick another subject or another degree or start a business in my dorm?   Why didn't I just take more time then, when the world was on my platter, rather than rush into the long muddle of middle age?

As someone who was in college in the early 80's, there are hardly any records or momentoes left to reflect on that time.  Hardly any photos of friends or places.  No tweets or blogs to re-discover and remember.  My personal historical archive is bare, compared to kids' today.  Sure, there are no embarrassing photos on the web and no one had even heard of the concept of cyberbullying, but then again, all the rest of life memories have largely evaporated, like a decaying Widener of the mind.    

The most important parts of my moral compass were set at Harvard, in particular, the sense of privilege and responsibility for belonging to an obvious elite, where it was just natural for classmates to become Nobel Prize winners or tech billionaires or poets, or mediocrities bedevilled by a nagging sense of unfulfilled promise.  Even a classmate who becomes President is judged as a disappointment, based on a sense of promise unfulfilled.  

There's time left, I tell myself, time to shake it up, before the sum-up, before those pithy obituaries in the Harvard Magazine, like the usual ones:  so-and-so died suddenly while fly-fishing in Patagonia after a career in law, survived by his spouse (Harvard Class of XX), and leaving his modest estate to fund a scholarship for swimmers at his Alma Mater.  

I want to go back to Harvard, not to some 30th reunion, but metaphorically, to that time of endless opportunities, where Gates and Zuck were gestating, where Obama polished his law-professor-with-politician's-smile, where Yo Yo Ma dashed down the hall with his cello case, and where the best parts were private.  Thirty years later, I walked down the dilapidated halls to give a lecture at an "elite" German university, with its egalitarian-ethos and 100,000 or more students, and I thought back to my time at Harvard, and whispered to myself once again, we few, we happy few.     

When everyone else seems to be trying to figure out how to delete and edit their life histories, or at least the public fiction of their life histories, I'm fumbling to hang on to mine.

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