Why Harvard?

Sunday

1122  |  What stops me from applying to schools other than Harvard?

To be honest, I wish that there were some place that I know of that could “hit the sweet spot” for me, as well as Harvard does. Some place where I don’t have to worry too much about admissions so that I could sort of “breeze in” (just so that I could stop needlessly obsessing about it), and where I would genuinely be happy being.

I’ve thought of Boston University. But the place commemorates Elie Wiesel, and I think that the attitudes surrounding his work there, and my own personality and values would likely clash. For one thing, I’m not a survivor (since, I’m usually the one who jumps head in or goes back in to rescue people) — and I’ve been this way since I could remember, even as young as age 5. In fact, it’s almost an insult to me to be called a survivor. Secondly, my temperament and character is the sort for whom “tolerance” is a bad word. I am more of the, “do it well, or don’t at all,” sort of person. These are actual frustrations that I’ve had in my experiences in Los Angeles, and at UCLA, where most of the educated people have pro-survivor and pro-tolerance type of attitudes. Also, I am a very huge Plato person. And so far, the two people that I’ve met from BU — a grad student and a professor, both who visited at Harvard — were strong Aristotelians. Based on this, I would be quite unhappy at BU, I think. I would feel fettered, uninspired, and knowing myself, I would soon become discontent and perhaps even rebellious.

One of the first courses that I audited at Harvard was a Classics course, with Adrian Stahli. And I finally felt free and happy. I felt like I had come home and was finally with “my people” — people who had an appreciation for “the Achilles that we all know and love.” At UCLA, Achilles is surly, bad, immoral, violent, and ill-tempered. To me, Achilles is sensitive, generous, passionate, loving, genuine, pious and just, and is overall an excellent fellow.

Barbara Herman has once suggested some place called ‘The New School’ for me, in New York. I visited their website, but the program is mostly filled with creative and artistic tracks, and I don’t think that is what I’m chiefly interested in. I am interested in morality, philosophy, and Ancient Greek philosophy. Also, they focus more on “history of Western thought” and the “modern European philosophical tradition.” Furthermore, it’s a progressive school. But it’s also too progressive, if that means anything. How can I be content with building atop what is now the case, if I don’t agree with what is now the case? It’s precisely this past that I want to dismantle, and rebuild over. The only place that I can really agree with, goes back to Plato. After that –starting with Aristotle — I disagree. I can only progress by tearing down Aristotle, and then re-building. So, if I build and look forward, my starting point is at Plato — not what the world is now. And so, I cannot be a “progressive” since what most people mean by this term is that one builds upon the past and is forward looking; but I mean to tear down the past –just up until Plato– and then rebuild. Furthermore, I don’t want something so entirely new. I want to go back to Plato, and even before him — to Homer, and the Homeric values.

But I’ve been corresponding by email over the years with Prof. Herman, and I would think that she knows something of my temperament, values, interests, and character. She is wise and intelligent. But this school is so completely the opposite of what I am looking for, that I cannot help but think that she intentionally suggested it to me in order to goad me into sticking to my heart’s first choice by reminding me of how unhappy I would be anywhere else. Or, on the other hand, she hates me for some reason. (Maybe because I’m anti-survivor and anti-tolerance.)

I even considered applying to UCLA, since I very much like the campus itself and I am familiar with the area. But to be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with most of the graduate students in the Philosophy department while I was there as an undergrad (I was more impressed with my first two TA’s from the Classics department, who were in their final year and taught the first few courses that I took in Classics at UCLA). I remember thinking to myself on several occasions — based on things that I’d overhear in their everyday chats with one another, or based on their dismissive reaction to some of my questions and comments, or just simply based on the fact that they seemed to take so much joy from confounding undergrads with silly puzzles and fancy paradoxical language — that they seemed so immature and petty, compared to what I would expect from philosophy grads. They were, in many cases, little more than undergrads with some additional [un-Socratic] “knowledge.” And even in this area (the area of so-called “knowledge”), I found that they often lacked a certain sort of insight though they certainly possessed more facts and data than I did at the time.

On the other hand, whatever little facts that I did possess, these touched me deeply and yielded such immense discoveries for me. Some of the grad students that I met certainly had the breadth, but did not possess sufficient depth, and their responses to me were often unsatisfying. But instead of feeling bored, uninterested, or apathetic by their lackluster responses, I was left even more agitated, and even more unhappy, more angry, more confused, more hungry to understand, more desperate for finding the right words and the right account, and filled with even more questions, and finally an even stronger desire to either find my people and my home, or if there isn’t yet a home in this world for me and people like me, then to die fighting to making a place for myself and set up a “home” for people like me to go to. How can I hope to learn and grow, when I felt this way? What kinds of conversations could I engage in with my fellows? The only reason that I could think of for being at UCLA as a grad student, is that perhaps if some other Kendi were to be an undergrad there while I am there, I could connect with them as their TA and give them what I could not get for myself. But I myself would probably feel a bit separated from my fellow grad students, since I felt these differences.

But this could be something that’s also be true for Harvard, just as much as for UCLA. But based on my experiences, I think that if I was ever unimpressed with anyone at Harvard, it wasn’t because they lacked passion and depth. (Although, there was one student at Harvard who thought that class divisions were marked by little things like having time to drink tea in the middle of the afternoon. But to pick on such a trait seemed superficial and somehow self-ignorant to me — to be quite frank about it — and for a moment I thought to myself, What is this really about? It surely can’t be about having time to drink tea in the middle of the afternoon. For instance, so-called poor people have just as much time in the middle of the afternoon to smoke cheap cigarettes, as so-called wealthy people have time to drink “instant” tea in the middle of the afternoon. What difference does it make whether one is smoking cheap cigarettes or drinking “instant” tea in the middle of the afternoon? The real difference in “class” lies in whether one does things properly and with one’s full undivided attention, or whether one does it half-heartedly and distractedly and more out of dulled habit than with sharp-awareness and passion. It’s got nothing to do with whether one drinks tea or drinks rain-water, or whether it is just before dawn or in the middle of the afternoon, or whether one has a great deal of money or very little.)

Furthermore, I just don’t know enough about other places to be as interested in those places as I am about being at Harvard. In any case, it’s not just a single idea that makes a place what it is. It is what it is that makes it what it is. I could begin to describe all the various things that make the place what it is, and why or how it’s exactly what I want and need. But it saves time to just refer to all these things at the same time with the efficiency of a single word, “Harvard.”

And “Harvard” is where I want to be, at least for a time. I am sure that there will come a time when I will grow out of Harvard, too. And then, at that time, I will want to move on to the next chapter of my life. But for now, this is it. I think that it’s what’s “right” for me.

The heart knows what is right and wrong for each individual. And if it’s right — I mean, if it’s truly the correct thing for me to do — then it simply must be done, and it must be done immediately. It doesn’t matter whether I can or not. It is the rightness of an action that demands the sufficient power to realize the action. One does not do the right thing because one can, or only when it’s convenient. Sometimes, ought demands can, even though it doesn’t immediately imply the possibility. It demands that one choose; not that one necessarily succeeds.

And if I believed differently, I wouldn’t even have come this far. I wouldn’t have moved 3,000 miles away from everything and everyone I knew, just to come here where I knew no one and had been promised nothing. I wouldn’t have applied to UCLA, since I didn’t have money to pay for tuition (since, at the time, I did not know that I would get a scholarship to cover the full cost). I wouldn’t have had Michael — who is a symbol of renewed hope, great expectation, love, health, and justice. I wouldn’t have had the courage to want to live, to be healthy, and most importantly, the courage to demand justice from God. I did not do any of these things because I thought that I could. I had to try, because I felt that something had to be done.

And after all this, and after having lived such a way for so many years? How can I suddenly choose differently now? This is my temperament and character, and my life-story will simply be a product of that.

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