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The Yale of My Day
Surviving “Grim Professionalism”

Remember that scene in The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman’s would-be father-in-law attempts to sum up the future in one word: “plastics"? Kingman Brewster tried to do the same in his freshman address to the Class of 1977. He implored us to avoid “grim professionalism” and spend our Yale days sampling diverse disciplines, not worrying about the future.

Ha! We were the peak of the Baby Boom, anxious premeds and investment banker wannabes, who had elbowed each other to get this far in life and weren’t about to stop until we had secure jobs and graduate degrees. “Grim professionalism” became a buzzword used mostly in derision—the plastics of academe.

In the years since then, I have often wished I had taken President Kingman Brewster’s advice and learned to play the carillon, signed up for a single math or science course or even gone to class a few more times. Instead, I did the opposite. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, so the first day of freshman year, I walked over to York Street and (literally) knocked on the door of the closest thing Yale has to a vocational school: the Yale Daily News.

The News at that point was one of Yale’s last great institutions. Maybe it was the portrait of Briton Hadden, with green eyeshade and armband, on the boardroom wall, but somehow the ghosts of old Yalies seemed particularly alive in the News building; maybe that’s why I loved it so much. Other old Eli traditions seemed a bit shopworn by the mid-1970s. Coeducation was old news; our class was 40 percent “women.” Even the bathrooms were coed.

At the News, would-be reporters still had to “heel” to join the staff. And if you wanted to be an editor, you wrote as many stories as you could, and stayed up very late, night after night, helping put the paper to bed.

As a result, I think I slept through more classes that I attended at Yale. But I got an amazing alternative education instead. I had a front row seat to disputes within the administration, an excuse to call up august professors at home and after midnight, a chance to go behind the scenes to places most Yalies never went. I got up at dawn one morning and watched white -coated bakers mixing dough in the bowels of Commons. I explored the steam tunnels, with a map and a notebook and a photographer. I covered a murder, a mysterious assault attempt, and spring vacation in Fort Lauderdale. I got a chance to know union workers, and assistant deans. I interviewed Dick Cavett and Bob Woodward and Edward Heath and Gerald Ford. I went inside and reported on the Shockley-Rusher debate, while most of the student body picketed outside.

Not surprisingly, much of my own course work got relegated to those few desperate days before exams. I once read 14 Shakespeare plays in one weekend; I devoured The Best and the Brightest in one night. Sometimes in those crazed, bleary-eyed reading period days, I would stop to marvel at how much knowledge I might have amassed if I had studied that hard all year long. But even then, my attention wandered. Instead of studying, I spent one crucial reading period senior year writing a piece for the Yale Daily News Magazine on “The Art of the All-Nighter,” going from one all-night campus library to another, collecting tips on how other students managed to stay awake all night cramming.

The News gave me a few other valuable things: a lifelong aversion to vodka and orange juice (thanks to one particularly rowdy Tap Night), a conviction that there is no task that can’t be completed, on deadline, if you just have enough adrenaline pumping, and an appreciation of how many hundreds of stories, large and small, make up a place as rich as Yale. And that may be the most liberal education of all.  the end





The Yale of My Day

Young Lords and Lower Classes

Distant Thunder

New Haven On Stage

From White Shoe to Combat Boot

Defying Dink

Harold Bloom and the “Orc Cycles”

Vietnam On Our Mind

Of Reading, and a Wink

A Confusion of Lures

Chronicling a Cauldron

Diary Daze

A Not Unwelcome Senselessness

When the World Barged In


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