Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Little Perspective on an Ivy League Education

No, this isn't an excuse to brag on my son getting his bachelor's degree (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude) in physics from Harvard last week.  But I was the first to get a bachelor's degree from my immediate family, just barely scraping by at the University of Rhode Island, which is a good school.  But it's not Harvard.  So I said it.

Last week was an awful lot of pomp and hot air.  I was taken in till my sister and her husband arrived, and that was good for bringing me back down to reality and having a few good laughs at all the putting on of airs, hot or otherwise.

A lot of that hot air involved telling the almost-grads that they are now about to become members of an exclusive and important club.  All said with a great deal of noblesse oblige.

Doors would indeed be open to them because of their "H-brand."  And it would be up to them to use that power to do good -- to be leaders, and to make the world a better place.


It wasn't till I got home, in fact, days after I got home, that I wondered at just how many students in that audience were vowing that they would indeed take it upon themselves to use their power for good rather than evil, as opposed to checking their iPhones.

After all, Harvard graduated Barack Obama, but also Mitt Romney.  I can assure you that both believe that they are doing good and we all know which one really is.  

Then there are those who are world leaders, and done much good along the way, who decided Harvard just wasn't doing it for them, people like Bill Gates.  Of course, there is debate about how he accumulated the resources to do good with his Foundation, but still....

It is more likely that many of those who are on that august roster who have made the greatest contribution to our country and the world are not known by us.  There appears to be a tendency for those notables who use their Harvard credential -- or any noted credential -- to affect change to take care of Number One first -- and best.  And whether that grad has come from wealth or poverty, most are willing to forget, if indeed they were ever aware of, those who are being left behind.

Compare the scientist who searches for a cure who is funded by government grants to the scientist who works for the pharmaceutical company who has vowed not to share progress rather than risk cutting into potential profits.

Then there is the army of Harvard MBA's -- bless their cold and shiny hearts.  I was pleased when a joke was made by one student speaker about another -- a notable business school speaker -- destroying the world.  Could it be that the students have clearer vision at the point of departure than those faculty that send them off?

Maybe Commencement Week at Harvard isn't the place to be unabashedly honest about the likely futures of many of the grads.  And, to be fair, cheating scandal and student tragedy was brought up alongside the acclaim of the four years.

But parents, time to wipe away the tears of pride.  Harvard, by virtue of that prestigious "H", has given your graduates  the power, and given many the confidence, and offered them all an ethical education with a moral message.  But whether or not they heard that message will remain to be seen.

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