Marsh: Cantabs in common

Two Fridays ago, I threw a few clothes into a bag and hit the road to Boston. Like so many other Yalies, I looked forward to the weekend of The Game with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. For the previous year and a half, upperclassmen had pumped me full of horror stories from the last blue-and-white migration. Reading this newspaper in the week leading up to The Game only reinforced the sensational tales. I half expected Harvard to be some sort of dystopian enclave where happiness had been utterly eradicated. What I found was something else entirely.

For me, the weekend began in Chestnut Hill, not Cambridge. I’d driven up to Massachusetts with a couple of good friends and they had made plans to stay at Boston College for the night. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time; surely, BC could provide the fun that was lacking across town. Indeed, as we rolled through St. Ignatius Gate and into Boston College’s maze of looming Collegiate Gothic edifices, we came across several other Yalies with the same thought on their minds.

But as the night wore on, I began to feel more and more out of place. Our hosts — a suite of 10 outgoing sophomore girls — were nothing but wonderful. Their enthusiastic welcome reminded me of the kind you’d get upon first meeting your younger brother’s new girlfriend: gregarious and eager to please. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that there was an invisible barrier between us and them. As they zipped up skintight dresses and told colorful stories of grinding on the members of White Panda, we fumbled to find suitable subjects of conversation. They welcomed in bros with backward baseball caps and high-tops; I self-consciously noted that I’d donned boat shoes and a collared shirt for the occasion. We listened to a typical Friday night playlist, looked at a few random pictures of their friends and then skipped out the door.

Thirty minutes later, we were in Cambridge. An occasional acquaintance met me at the parking garage and I followed him back to Dunster House. On the way, we fell into a surprisingly easy conversation that flitted from the corruption plaguing Indian electoral politics to the quirks of Tommy Lee Jones to the history of Harvard-Yale gridiron rivalry. Before I knew it, we were stepping through the door of his suite and into the midst of my first Harvard party.

Dare I say it? It was a blast.

My bag was whisked away, drinks were pressed into my hands from all sides, and within five minutes, I felt like I was amidst family. That night, I played pong with a future financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, danced with a member of the Boston Ballet and joked with a senior from Austria about the European club scene. When we ventured out later that night, we found a lot of parties — and they were all packed.

The next morning, I was dragged from my sleep at 8 a.m. by the melodious strains of Lady Gaga. Then it all began again. Soon enough, I found myself twirling along with a tireless Crimson carnival that paused only for an astonishingly hot breakfast. Despite everything I’d heard, Harvard students were loads of fun and more than hospitable.

So, when it finally came time to chant “Harvard Sucks” later that day, I realized I didn’t actually believe it.

It was basic biology at work — I felt most at home among those whom I was most like. Harvard students, I contend, are the closest thing you will find to Yale students outside of New Haven. They, too, like to think deeply and live voraciously. Even in a party setting, that means more than we’d like to admit.

I’m speaking in generalities, but I believe what I say to be generally true. College transforms us, homogenizes us. Every university has a unique spirit, and as time passes, every student takes some part of it for his own, and shared qualities are reinforced. This explains why so many alumni return to Yale each year — to acknowledge commonalities and to associate with like-minded individuals.

The same qualities that allow alumni to relate to each other allow us to relate to Harvard students. The academic, emotional and social challenges we face are similar, and they call for the same passion and determination. The longer we spend in such company, the more these traits are accentuated. There was a time when I would have been able connect with students in Chestnut Hill as easily as students in Cambridge, but no longer. As our experiences shape us, they determine those to whom we can best relate — a thought which is both invigorating and frightening.

Rory Marsh is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.

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