Harvard degrees mean something. Many people have recognized this, from the enterprising young man who asserted that his A.B. was "worth money" in Chicago to the pollsters last year who discovered that graduates of Harvard (and two other institutions which have tried to follow its example)--even those who were not born with coupon-bearing bonds in their mouth--earned considerably above the average for college men.
There are less tangible benefits as well: membership in the fellowship of educated men, possibility of membership in a Harvard Club, extra letters for those who feel their names are too short, and a part interest in the withering sneer which says, "Why should I argue that Harvard is better than your college, when deep down we both know it is?
But for all that, unless one assumes that the nation has been grossly and consistently hoodwinked for the last 316 years, there must be something in the behavior of Harvard men, beyond their skill at Harvardmanship, that has enabled them to surmount scorn and suspicion and make a go of things. And since each new issue of graduates is in a sense living off the reputations of its predecessors, there is plainly a responsibility for each class to make things easier for the ones still to come.
Fortunately, since Harvard still requires no oaths, except those connected with payment of debts to the University, there is no one pattern of action that one can recommend to all the men graduating today. One of the University's greatest attractions for its students is the diversity of views that they can find and of paths of study they can follow and this diversity must naturally lead to great variety in the men that Harvard produces. If we might venture a generalization, however, about one characteristic common to most of those the University turns out, it is that they can place the modern world in a valid perspective, and can try to make their own syntheses out of modern confusions and uncertainties without seeking refuge in old or new philosophies that seek to explain the world in formulas.
Harvard as an institution has suffered at the hands of formula men throughout its history, from the early discontents who, in protest against Harvard's liberalism, founded Yale to the present day purveyors of loyalty investigations.
It is especially hard to avoid formulas and maintain flexibility of thought after leaving college. Here the decisions concerning one's vegetative life are nobly born by the Buildings and Grounds and the Dining Hall departments, leaving undergraduates with only weighty philosophical and moral matters to decide. On emerging into the "world" as opposed to the "university" one finds the opposite: the weighty decisions have alreday been made and the vegetative ones remain to be taken care of. This is the sort of situation where material planning must perforce dominate critical thinking, and it may well account for much of the distrust which students and old grads often show for each other's views and behavior.
Perhaps there is at least one formula for remaining open-minded, and for developing the ability to look at undergraduates twenty-five years from now with something less than horror. If there is, Harvard seems to have come as close to it as any university. Its alumni have generally stood by it during financial and doctrinal storms, and have thus enabled the University to go on producing people who can fulfill requirements for both concentration and distribution in their later lives as well as in college. They have sandwiched this year's graduates between a fine tradition and a difficult challenge.