This evening as I was walking home from work, I overheard a couple having an animated discussion about dropping the H-Bomb. The stalker that I am, I creepily loitered by a street meat vendor, pretending to be conflicted about a lamb kabob while listening in on the rest of their conversation.
Alas, these were not Japanese tourists, nor disturbingly-hawkish Americans. Instead, they were former graduate students from Harvard, discussing the best way to “drop the H-Bomb,” a.k.a. to tell people that you went to Harvard.
The H-Bomb is referred to as such because of its cataclysmic result, no matter the initial intention. Some people drop the H-Bomb everywhere, proudly showing off their Harvard knee socks, cuff links, and embroidered crimson hankerchiefs. Others would rather tell you that they went to Bunker Hill Community College than Harvard, forcing you to dig deep to get it out of them (“Where did you go to school?” “In Boston.” “Where in Boston?” “Cambridge.” “What school in Cambridge?” “Just a small school by the river…”)
Harvard’s reputation necessitates a certain prudence when dropping the bomb. Some imagine that Harvard is just a stomping ground for douchy guys who tie cashmere sweaters around their necks. Others believe that it’s a torture factory that turns nerds into white-collar criminals. General consensus, though, is that Harvard students are sleep-deprived, bookworm zombies with limited social skills, poor hygiene habits, and argyle socks. (Some of that is not far from the truth.)
So inevitably, when you drop the H-Bomb, you get one of three reactions: awe, indifference, or “fight me.”
- Awe: “Wow! What was it like? Do you really have Quidditch matches on Sundays? You’re like a genius, aren’t you?”
- Indifference: “Hmm. I heard they’re no longer serving hot breakfast.”
- Fight Me: “So what did you get on your SATs? That’s not that impressive. I heard there’s a lot of grade inflation there. Did your parents go there? Are they super rich? Your grandfather donated a statue, didn’t he? Whatever, I make more money than you.”
More often than not, the reactions fall into either #1 or #3. At these extremes, Harvard alums are either deified or insulted. Deification, however, can turn into insult in a hurry: forgot what the capital of Italy was? “And you went to Harvard?” Mistakenly thought Winston Churchill was still alive? “And you went to Harvard?” Was taken to the hospital after you threw up tequila in the streets? “And you went to Harvard?”
Ultimately, unless you dropped out of school with a billion-dollar idea like Bill Gates, all Harvard alums will suffer from the Saturday Night Live effect. The SNL effect is based off the premise that most people believe SNL isn’t as good now as it was in the past. That’s mainly because the only skits we see from the past are the good ones, whereas all the crappy skits were burned to a crisp in California wildfires. Similarly, as a Harvard grad, we are immediately expected to become the next boy-genius President, or else we’re just huge failures. It’s tough when everyone expects you to pull a Church Lady out of the hat every single time… But, such is the curse.
Thus, many Harvard grads are incredibly insecure–and this is why we love the H-Bomb. The H-Bomb gives us some recongition, good or bad, that we were mildly important at some time. We derive some smug satisfaction out of being loved or hated. So we talk about the H-Bomb. We write about the H-Bomb. We name campus sex magazines after the H-Bomb (now defunct). And we pile up our H-Bomb degrees, whether we need them or not.
But in the end, we need to find the Church Lady, to find that something that will define us outside of Harvard. I know that in the future, the douchy, nerdy, future white-collar criminal in me will always be there, thanks to my four years in Cambridge. At the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ll sully the prestigious Harvard name by forgetting some easy world capitals along the way. So, I want to pull off a #1 without having to drop the H-Bomb at all. It may take me years, decades, or lifetimes… But, such is the dream.