It’s Not What School You Went To, It’s the Kind of Person You Are

In the middle of all the other excitement followed on this blog, last weekend I got to do something completely different: attend my high school class reunion, the first one I had even been to.  People were taken aback that I was going to Boca Raton, FL, to do this, but there’s no mystery: someone’s got to go to high school in Boca, so why not me?

High school reunions can be difficult experiences.  In a class there are always winners and losers, and in a confined space such as a school there aren’t many places to hide.  Getting everybody back together only opens old wounds, although these are compensated for when the winners and losers find that they’ve traded places in real life.  As one friend of mine put it, if you’ve peaked in high school, you’re in real trouble.

In this case, the reunion experience was entirely positive.  The original social scene was more diffuse and not as stratified as in most places, so we didn’t start with a “pecking order” to work through.  Coupled with a high mortality rate in our class, we were just glad to see each other.  The school did a wonderful job in putting things together and we had a great time.

Readers of this blog, however, may be aware that I have my own baggage to deal with, not with the classmates, but with the school itself.  As I mentioned in my 2005 piece Dear Graduate, one thing that has always sat hard was my school’s adverse reaction to my going to Texas A&M University.  My decision to do this was a complicated one, but my complexities meant nothing to those who felt that I was Ivy League material and should honour the school’s reputation by going there.  I was pulled over by one faculty member and directly admonished about my choice; another publicly expressed his amazement.

But the pièce de resistance came the day I graduated.  One of our classmates was brilliant enough to get early admission to an Ivy League school, which meant that he spent his senior year in high school as a freshman in college.  We hadn’t seen him for a year.  Evidently someone had tipped him off, because, as we were assembling to march into the school’s chapel, he pulled me aside and griped about my choice.

Needless to say, the imposing buildings of Aggieland were a welcome sight when I went for orientation later in the month.

As our reunion wound down, my wife and I got to talk with our class saluditorian, who is a very nice person and who helped make our reunion a reality.  She was horrified at my experience, and while relating her own educational odyssey (which did in fact take her up East) she expressed the sentiment that it’s not what school you went to, it’s the kind of person you are.

Needless to say, those were healing words.  It was worth making the trip to hear them.  Unfortunately, her opinion and mine are rapidly passing into the minority, on a practical level at least.

I’ve noted that we’ve not had a non-Ivy League President of the United States since Ronald Reagan, and if things keep going the way they are we won’t have another one during the life of this Republic.  I’d like to think that this is a problem solely of the left, but it isn’t.  During the Harriet Miers fiasco, Ann Coulter griped that Bush (himself a Skull and Bones Yalie, like John Kerry) had nominated an SMU graduate to the Supreme Court.  The conservatives (and many Evangelicals in the pack) have adopted, lemming-like, this mentality.

Along these lines I’d like to add something from Moses Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher:

The prophets have likewise explained unto us these things, and have expressed the same opinion on them as the philosophers. They say distinctly that perfection in property, in health, or in character, is not a perfection worthy to be sought as a cause of pride and glory for us; that the knowledge of God, i.e., true wisdom, is the only perfection which we should seek, and in which we should glorify ourselves. Jeremiah, referring to these four kinds of perfection, says: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jer. ix. 22, 23). See how the prophet arranged them according to their estimation in the eyes of the multitude. The rich man occupies the first rank; next is the mighty man; and then the wise man; that is, the man of good moral principles: for in the eyes of the multitude, who are addressed in these words, he is likewise a great man.  (Guide for the Perplexed, III, LIV)

And as for the school itself?  Well, it looks like they don’t have to worry about renegades like me any more.  When I went there, the school had only Grades 7-12.  Now they have them all, including pre-kindergarten.  The alumni director told me that parents who were seeking admission for their children into pre-K were already asking about the Ivy League admission rate.

It’s good that neither Jeremiah nor Moses Maimonides had to add the Ivy Leaguers to the list.  But we must.

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