This is shocking, so brace yourself.
I used to go to Harvard.
Yes, proud and multigenerational Yaleman that I am, I made the ultimate betrayal. I’m the Benedict Arnold of higher education, the Ivy League Iscariot. I took classes amongst those bland red bricks, ate at various cheap eateries around the Square, rode the T, and if I didn’t pahk my cah in Hahvahd Yahd, well, it’s only because I was too young to drive. And because no one in Cambridge really talks that way anymore.
As seniors at a small high school north of Boston, my friend Lillie and I decided that we were fed up with math. Casting about for alternatives, we hit upon Harvard Extension. This nifty program allows anyone — literally anyone — to pay a fee to attend a real Harvard class, taught by a real Harvard professor, once a week in the evening.
We chose Arabic, because it seemed cool and topical and allowed us to write secret notes to each other during ecology period. We quickly established our favorite words — “tuti” (parrot), “waswas” (temptations that Shaytan whispers in your ear), and “Iraq,” because our professor pronounced its strangling consonants so violently we worried he would choke.
Our classmates were a grab bag of perpetual students, bored stay-at-home moms, and wannabe world-peacemakers. We didn’t progress very far collectively, because inordinate amounts of time were spent explaining to some people that in Arabic, you call yourself “Anna” EVEN if you are a man. But some things stuck. To this day, I can very confidently lie to you that I am a student studying economics at the University of Cairo. And that’s about it.
All this is not to criticize the good folks who made an effort to learn an extremely difficult language, or indeed even to criticize this kind of open education, which really is a cool thing.
It’s just to say that — I know.
I know what it’s like.
I know how it feels to wander amidst that dispiriting Puritan architecture and feel your vitality drain into the wintery pavement.
I know the taste of inferior falafel and less trendy, less sustainable sushi that’s not served wrapped in peanut butter and goat cheese.
I know how goddamn BORING it is to ride public transportation instead of wandering the streets in search of a sketchy cab that doesn’t take credit cards.
Yes, I’ve felt the hardships of Harvard life. I know how much it sucks to be constantly drawn away from campus by the attractions of a big, vibrant city that is mere minutes away. How exhausting it is to have your university’s name and brand recognized literally everywhere in the world, and not confused for a correctional facility by speakers of languages with y/j confusions. To know that your education is in the hands of the richest private institution in the universe besides the Catholic Church and the Galactic Empire.
You can’t imagine the soul-crushing smugness that comes from winning your most cherished sporting event four years in a row.
So believe me when I say — thank God I’m out of there. Gone for good. Thank God I finished that class and moved on, with my shitty Arabic and unchallenged palette, to the land of Gothic gargoyles and midnight muggings, washed by the sweet scent of the Quinnipiac waves.
In other words, guys — let’s win this one. Please. For us. For me. For God, for country, for Mamoun’s and Annette the Flower Lady and Louis Kahn and Chief Ronnell Higgins and the Harvard Arabic Department. We deserve it. Just this once.