Amazingly, I passed all my first year law school exams (okay, by the skin of my teeth), and that fall I was back in Cambridge ready to start my second year at Harvard Law. But they wouldn’t let me register for classes because I couldn’t pay the (staggering) tuition.
When I’d started my first year I had both need-based and competitive financial aid packages, but now they both seemed to have gone up in smoke. In a panic I called the dean’s office and spoke to the same assistant dean who’d been my nemesis back in the spring. She told me that I had forfeited that aid because I hadn’t shown up for my second year of law school.
I pointed out that I hadn’t failed to show up on purpose, I’d been drafted. “The reason doesn’t matter,” she told me. “Oh?” I said. “What about Rosalind N, who just returned from the Peace Corps?” It turned out, naturally, that my friend Rosalind N had been given her scholarship back, even though she hadn’t shown up for her second year voluntarily. Meanwhile, my financial aid had been given to draft-dodgers, which was why they weren’t available to me.
When I complained directly to the Dean of the Law School, Derek Bok, he said, “You should have thought about that before you joined a fascist organization.” Yes, Bok was the very man who would be the future president of Harvard University.
It was nice that Harvard was now, 42 years after they had denied scholarships to us fascists, belatedly thanking us for our service. But what about, I was thinking, a nice, sincere apology? What about a “We have no idea what we were thinking and obviously we must have been temporarily insane [for half a century]?”
Thanks to the loss of my scholarship, I had to borrow the money to complete my meagre law degree and it took me eleven years to pay it off. (These days, of course, that’s par for the course, but in those days it was unheard-of.) So how about, “We thank you for your service and enclosed is a check for $423,618, representing your student loans plus 42 years’ interest?”
Well, no, the fact is that I know Harvard far too well to expect an apology or, heaven forfend, a check. I should have been grateful for the thanks and left it at that. But there was something about that Veteran’s Day email that still stuck in my craw. I tried to figure out what it was, but the solution eluded me. That is, until a few weeks ago.
Then I had it. It was the second sentence: “We are forever grateful for your sacrifices.” Sacrifices? Perhaps Harvard was thinking about the men and women who’d died while the university couldn’t have cared less. But my suspicion was that those folks probably weren’t getting the Veteran’s Day email. Or maybe it was the men and women who were wounded fighting for Harvard’s right to be outrageous.
But that couldn’t be right, either, because the email went out to every Harvard military veteran, while only a tiny percentage of us had been wounded in the line of duty. No, Harvard is so clueless about our armed forces that it assumed that anyone who served in the military was automatically making enormous “sacrifices.”
News flash, Crimson fellows: most people who serve in the military think of it as a privilege. Consider this, my fellow Cantabrigians: virtually every person now serving in the American military volunteered to do so. They wished to serve their country, to see the world, to be trained in skills that would serve them well in the civilian world. My own nephew dropped out of college so he could become a Marine infantry officer, and we are all so proud of him that we can’t see straight.
Technically, of course, I was an exception to that rule. I didn’t volunteer, I was drafted, and I didn‘t consider my service to be a privilege, I considered it to be a major PITA. I turned 25 in the army, was married, and was partway through law school. Meanwhile, I was serving mainly with 18- and 19-year-old high school kids who, however brave they might have been in a firefight, were still boys who’d never been away from home and who missed their moms.
And, yes, while I was standing MP duty my friends back at Harvard were graduating and sending me smug notes about the staggering salaries they were earning on Wall Street. I, meanwhile, was pulling down almost $135/month (pre-tax).
But sacrifice? Sorry, not even close. “Sacrifice” is coming home in a body bag. “Sacrifice” is getting your legs blown off by a roadside IED. I wasn’t even really wasting my time, because where but in the army would anyone have put a 24-year-old kid like me in charge of 50 heavily armed cops?
To try to get this point across to people whose brains apparently stopped working five decades ago, I thought a few of my fellow alumni veterans and I would send the following email to every Harvard alum who graduated after ROTC was banned from the campus:
Thank you to all our alumni for your attendance at Harvard University. We are forever grateful for your sacrifices.
Next up: On Lucretius
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