I have a friend who recently started business school in Boston. But she isn't going to just any business school; she is going to the business school. Harvard Business School, the home of the academic elite, where people wear repp ties and discuss the Orwellian implications of a free market economy under a cap and trade system.
Or something like that.
Now, I went to a state school where I was a straight B student. I didn't break any academic records. And my experience with people from Harvard had been limited. Maybe I had met a graduate or two on several occasions. I had never spent my time in a room full of them. I imagined I would stick out like a Prius at a tractor pull. And I got my chance to see what that was like, when I visited.
My friend comes from a non-traditional background, which is to say not from a world of high finance and economics. She comes from publishing. So students like herself had to come in a few weeks early for some extra schooling before the rest of the students with more traditional backgrounds arrived. This is a program which Harvard calls, "Analytics."
They are not called, as I was referring to them, "The Deficients."
The first night my friend and I went to dinner and then met up with her new friends at a house party for her classmate's birthday. When we got there, the party had been going on for a while.
My preconceived notions firmly in place, I fully anticipated walking into a house with passed hors d'oeuvres, a string quartet, and people with names like Muffy discussing the retched state of the proletariat.
I certainly did not expect to hear Jay-Z blasting through the front door.
In fact, I wasn't sure this was the right place. I even suggested my friend call to make sure. But my friend, more brazen than I, pushed right into the house.
What I saw was the complete opposite of what I expected.
The party music was indeed blasting, and people were dancing in the living room. There were a mess of cups around, alcohols, and foodstuffs, and a stack of Kraft cheese slices in the kitchen. There was also a conspicuous couple lurking in a dark bedroom. All in all about 50 people socializing and just having a good time.
Granted they had been drinking for 6 hours when we got there, so that might have helped to loosen the mood.
Sure there was Absolute Vodka instead of some fake Russian crap in a plastic bottle. And people had actually brought edible things instead of Taquitos from the gas station, but it still looked like a typical college party.
And aside from the fact that everybody looked a little bit older, and there were perhaps a couple more dress shirts and a few less flip flops than there would have been 10 years ago, it could have been a freshman party in a house off campus in any town, USA.
It distinctly reminded me of walking into parties my first couples years of college back before I drank alcohol. Everyone would hold those red solo cups full of keg beer or jungle juice, and I would just stand there, with my arms akimbo, orbiting my body like I was in an anti gravity chamber, as they searched for a comfortable position to rest in that didn't scream, "I AM 18 AND VERY INSECURE."
Even though that was many years ago, I still had a flash of that feeling and quickly went to find a cup.
But what made this party different was people did not pretend I didn't exist. They would introduce themselves to me and shake my hand, ask me if I was in the program with them.
The first couple of times that happened I laughed, because, well, even though I consider myself a bright individual, this was still Harvard Business School. And I could even make it through sophomore year of my Bachelors in business. Let's just say I didn't take Calculus twice because I wanted to.
But if I hadn't known in advance that all of these kids were going to Harvard, I probably wouldn't have guessed it after meeting them. Everyone just seemed like a normal human being, which kind of made me wonder why I thought there would be such a bizarre difference to begin with, but still.
And when I met these people, it was Friday night. There were no mandatory study groups, there were no tests of reviews or projects or otherwise. They were going to party like it was their first year of undergrad, and that is how it felt.
They weren't pretentious. Most of them seemed almost kind of scared of what was to come. But I almost felt like I fit in. I know that couldn't be right, and yet, there was something beautiful about these people who had finished college, and worked for several years, embracing this decision to go back to school.
And even though it is Harvard Business School, there is still something decidedly post pubescent about shunning work to be a full time student. As competitive and grueling as a program might be, there is a youthful mentality that goes along with the decision to just not work.
Even if that does mean performing regression analysis for foreign currency markets.
Either way it was such a refreshing thing to be partying with a bunch of "kids" who were still kind of buzzing on the fact they had been admitted to Harvard to begin with.
They weren't condescending or elitist. Heck, maybe that would come in time, but for now, they were just kids on the eve of their first real week in college.
Which kind of makes me think that we are never that far away from the people we once were. All that separates us is time, and a few experiences. But it is amazing how easily we can slide back into the mantle of our youth.
Perhaps it is the comfort of a time without consequence, or a memory of a sunset whose colors burn brighter in our memory than they could have ever been in real life, but there is a satisfaction that comes from looking back, and reliving the emotions of our past that we can never hope to replicate in the future.