Eyes on the Prize

Posted on 30. Oct, 2000 by in Uncategorized

The perennial filing frenzy that descends on the fellowship
office at Undergraduate Career Services during the first weeks
of September has finally calmed. Legions of Yalies brandishing
applications and wearied from weeks of humble self-aggrandizement
have given up their annual siege of 1 Hillhouse Ave. The many
seniors who just couldn’t get that perfect Rhodes recommendation
or whose Fulbright interview flopped are now left to look for
real jobs or to seek funds elsewhere.
Yet the despair of these haggard souls is unwarranted. They need
look no further than the Yale College Dean’s Office website to
find Undergraduate Prizes, a catalogue of Yale’s many endowed
prizes-some offering hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. The
Dean’s Office, the Council of Masters, and the residential colleges
grant prizes for good sportsmanship, good grades, and even some
for good intentions. The John C. Shroeder Award is set aside
for the junior "who, in the opinion of the Committee on
Award, will find his/her place and play a good part in the good
labor of the world."
Other prizes, however, ask for something more. Looking closely,
the Yalie with even the most arcane talent, the most obscure
interests, and the most eccentric character traits can find the
trailhead of his or her own road to riches in Undergraduate Prizes.
Take, for instance, the F. Wilder Bellamy, Jr., Memorial award,
"for the junior or juniors who best exemplify the ‘qualities
for which F. Wilder Bellamy, Jr., is remembered.’" Just
what are these qualities? The Class Book of 1937 yields some
answers. Mr. Bellamy ("Babe" to his college chums)
attended St. Mark’s prep school and entered Yale as a legacy
in 1933. He lived in Davenport, managed two varsity sports teams,
majored in American History, and left planning to become an "investment
broker." For sure, not just anyone can live up to such achievements.
One of seven juniors who took home $2,000 for the Bellamy prize
last year, David Valdez (DC ’01) acknowledged that he and Mr.
Bellamy "share a certain mystique." Asked whether he
plans to become an investment broker, Mr. Valdez (who has no
quirky nickname) replied, "No, no brokerage business for
me. Entertainment. It’s only a little different."
Among the prizes that take more forethought is Library Map Prize,
"awarded by the University Library to the student who makes
the best use of maps in his/her senior essay or its equivalent."
Fred Musto, curator of maps at Sterling Memorial Library, takes
his duties as judge seriously. "I don’t know what sort of
humor you’re going to find in the Map Prize," he warns before
I begin my questioning. The Prize, he goes on to explain, usually
goes to a student whose thesis involves historical geography
or architecture. But it is not awarded every year, so spurious
prize seekers need not apply. "We know that some people
just look at the prize list to see what they’re eligible for,"
Musto scowls.
Another man keeping a watchful eye on the prize he oversees is
Beinecke Library’s Stephen Parks. Mr. Parks’s eyes shine with
nostalgia as he tells me about the award’s namesake Adrian van
Sinderen, "one of the grand old book collectors of his era."
The prize, $500 for sophomores and $750 for seniors, was endowed
by Mr. van Sinderen "to stimulate book collecting among
undergraduates, to encourage book-buying, book-owning, and book-reading
both as a hobby and as a fundamental part of the educational
process." Mr. Parks explains that the committee of judges
looks not simply for rarity, but rather for the "intelligently
chosen nucleus" of a personal library. Winning collections
have included editions of the Wizard of Oz and books on beekeeping.
"Of course, there’s always somebody who tries to win by
submitting his course books," Mr. Parks commented derisively.
The residential college prizes honor perhaps the most carefree
set of achievements. The Berkeley College Fellows Prize, for
instance, is set aside for "that member who has brought
the most light and air to the College." Some students feel,
however, that certain prizes demand the impossible. The Lawton
Calhoun Cup is awarded annually in Pierson College "to that
member of the college who, in the opinion of the Master, has
done the most to make Pierson a happy place." Says Pierson
neighbor Jack Snyder (DC ’03), "Bring happiness to Pierson?
A Sisyphean challenge, indeed."
Don’t feel up to the task? Perhaps, in the end, a real job doesn’t
look so bad.



Alma Matters
by Anthony Weiss

Ralph Nader complained that this year’s election is nothing but
a "Harvard-Yale game." Sure enough, if all are faithful
to their alma maters, the four major-party presidential and vice-presidential
candidates will visit Cambridge this November. Of course, Dick
Cheney might skip the proceedings, as he dropped out of Yale
to graduate from the University of Wyoming. But George W. Bush
should certainly be there, possibly even at his father’s side.
Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will have to part ways, as Gore and
his three daughters cheer the Cantabs, while Joe, a New Haven
resident and Yale alum, will say a bracha over the Bulldogs.
Of course, Ralph won’t be there-he got stuck at Princeton for
his bright college years.
Surprisingly, compared with other elections over the past 50-odd
years, the Ivy heritage of this year’s crop is unusual. Some
recent candidates attended name-brand schools, such as Harvard,
Yale, and Princeton. But many more graduated from schools that
most don’t associate with the power elite: the University of
Minnesota, Eureka College, and Whittier College, for example.
In the past century, Harvard College has produced two presidents,
but Gore should be wary of following in their footsteps: John
F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt both died in office. W.
would carry on the family tradition, as his father was one of
only two candidates in history to go from the Old Campus to the
White House. (The other was William Howard Taft, better known
for his corpulence than his achievement in office). Princeton’s
sole candidate, Adlai Stevenson, lost twice. Military academies
have produced two winners (Dwight Eisenhower, a West Point man,
and Jimmy Carter, an Annapolis graduate), while the University
of Michigan (Gerald Ford and Thomas Dewey) and the University
of Minnesota (Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale) produced two
election losers apiece.
Among candidates from lesser-known schools, Lyndon Johnson brought
home the bacon for Southwest Texas Teachers College, while Ronald
Reagan did Eureka College proud for two straight terms. Richard
Nixon wanted to go to Yale, but couldn’t afford the travel expenses
and instead went to Whittier College. He won two elections anyway.
Perhaps the most impressive is Harry Truman, who never graduated
from Spalding Business College, but nevertheless enrolled in
the University of Kansas Law School at the age of 38.
So while this year may be a "Harvard-Yale game," it’s
the first one in recent memory. The two schools do produce many
of the nation’s leaders in business, as well as most levels of
politics, but the presidency is a different animal. Few presidents
have actively marketed themselves as intellectuals. The man-of-the-people
image is a far more popular role, perhaps most masterfully played
by Ronald Reagan. The last major candidate to present himself
as a true thinker was Stevenson, who was crushed in consecutive
elections by the simpler, more grandfatherly Eisenhower. (It
also didn’t hurt that Ike won the war.)
However, Nader’s phrase implicates something more than mere education:
elitism. Coming from a Princeton graduate, this may be slightly
hypocritical, but the issue is worth examining nonetheless. Elitism,
too, however, cuts against the trend of recent history. FDR was
the last of the patrician politicians, and he was followed by
Harry Truman, a gritty populist. JFK could be considered as an
exception, but the Kennedys are a breed apart, eluding normal
categories. True, George Bush exuded a whiff of elitism, but
he rode on the coattails of the very folksy Reagan, and was soon
defeated by the down-home Bill Clinton. No other president in
the past 50 years has represented any class higher than the comfortable
middle class. Some, like Nixon, were downright poor.
The take-home message for Yalies who aspire to the highest office
in the land? Transfer to Bemidji State and learn to play the
sax.

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