April 30, 2010

Harvard Grads: Not as Smart as You Think

By most accounts, kids who attend Harvard have some sort of exceptional ability. Of the ten or twenty Harvard graduates I know, this is true down the line. Furthermore, most of them have been successful at a relatively young age in the fields of business, banking or media. But what I”€™ve noticed among my friends is that beyond their career success, Harvard grads are not much different from me or anybody else who didn”€™t quite make it to the Ivy League. Actually, they are just as likely to be flawed, riddled with vices, and confounded by emotion and personal relationships. 

Call Harvard folk geniuses if you like, but to me, the mark of a genius has as much to do with the ability to retain and analyze information as it does with the capacity to handle oneself on a personal level. One might say this is the most important skill of all, and without a well-developed ability to make intelligent life decisions a superior aptitude for performing in a rigorous academic environment is virtually useless. One would think that one begets the other, but this is not necessarily the way things happen.

“I couldn”€™t help but feel a tinge of schadenfreude when Harvard fell into financial trouble. It seemed to confirm my suspicions that Harvard is not always synonymous with clever.”

Of course society tends to value financial success above wealth of a more personal or intellectual nature. This is an unfortunate mistake, especially for those who fall victim to hubris. Institutions seem to be governed by the same laws. Harvard is a perfect example of one that over-values material gains. I couldn”€™t help but feel a tinge of schadenfreude when Harvard fell into financial trouble. It seemed to confirm my suspicions that Harvard is not always synonymous with clever. According to Freud, a balance of both makes for a truly healthy person, or in this case, institution. So how did Harvard get into this mess?

According to my Harvard Friends, a good part of the freshman curriculum is dedicated to emphasizing the good fortune and advantage students have for being able to attend Harvard University. In other words, they are told just how special they are over and over again. For most young adults, even so-called geniuses, these sorts of labels might be deceptive, though this attitude seems to remain with Harvard students beyond their academic careers, and highlights almost everything Harvard. 

While there is nothing wrong with elitism or a meritocracy per se, this superior attitude undercuts true brilliance, and makes people like me roll their eyes at Harvard folk. Most people with any intellectual pretensions whatsoever believe they are special. A clever angst-ridden teenager with even a single existential thought in his mind is likely to hang on to that distinction for as long as possible. Eventually, one hopes to be knocked back down to earth, though some tend to prize the Jesus-complex for far too long, even when they have little to show off about except that they went to Harvard. 

Generally, Harvard types seem to epitomize mainstream success and the values that go along with that. The majority of alumni I know conform to this standpoint. The exceptions are out there though, and I know a few who are not particularly successful or exceptional. They tend to boast the most. I continue to reserve the eye roll for these individuals. 

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