Guest column: Remembering my daughter’s admission to Harvard

Our daughter Nancy had come up with some compelling reasons why she shouldn’t accept Harvard University’s invitation to become a member of the class of 1989.

“Harvard’s too big,” she had reasoned. “Everyone at Harvard is a genius. They’re all from fancy boarding schools.”

But by the time decision day had rolled around, Nancy had said yes to Harvard. I admit ither father and I were delighted.

While others in our family have experienced the Ivies, nobody had made it to Harvard.

Walking into Harvard Yard with Nancy was a high point of my life for some reasons I can explain, and some I can’t.

Perhaps it was because Nancy’s maternal great-grandmother, an immigrant who worked day and night in a fruit store, could not have imagined that walk. Nor could her paternal grandfather, a chicken farmer who eked a living out of the New Jersey soil.

Maybe it’s because every hopeful image I ever had of this youngest daughter’s future seemed to leap to life on that day.

That was one momentous walk for our scared freshman and her awed parents.

In the mayhem of arrival day, Nancy was handed a key to Holworthy Hall, a dormitory built in 1812 that looked every bit its age. There she met a trio of roommates out of a demographer’s dream: the prep school deb from Manhattan; the Midwesterner with the mane of auburn hair that needed combing; and the laid-back California lass who didn’t seem to own a pair of shoes.

And then there was our Jewish public school daughter from a small South Jersey town, all to be space-sharers in what Harvard euphemistically called a “suite.”

Thirty years later, the gratifying news is that Nancyand Harvarddid fine together.

It turns out that Harvard is more welcoming than it is aloof, and has a warm side. It also turns out that there are plenty of poor kids from ordinary families there because scholarships are plentiful. Nancy, thankfully, was on one.

Sure, Harvard also is a place that can be intimidating, if only because it’s well, Harvard. It has that aura of power and privilege.

And at the risk of offending Harvard, I’ll still suggest that while it’s nice to be a graduate of this bastion of learning, one can also absolutely emerge as an educated mortal at ivy-free urban schools. Maybe even more so than in a cloistered place where real life is at arm’s length.

But Nancy is thankful, she assures us, for her Harvard education. Like so many alums who return to Cambridge, drawn by bonds of love and memory, she has gone happily to most of her reunions. And she’s met classmates who have already composed symphonies, written important books and directed critically acclaimed films.

Nancy has done none of the above, yet she is forever altered by Harvard. In four years, the place gave her a ride through the fabulous terrain of art and science, philosophy and ethics, religious thought and political theory.
In the end, her degree in post-Civil War American history would yield to a more passionate interest in psychology, and several more years of higher education.

But it all began at Harvard, the place that stretched Nancy’s mind, molded her spirit and was the backdrop for the great romance of her life.

Our daughter will never stop being grateful for that bonus. Because love trumps even Harvard.