the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

College Days


Imagine there are two bloggers.  One went to a fancy expensive Ivy League college.  The other went to Podunk University.   Could you tell which one is writing a blog about international affairs and which one is writing about pandas and panties?

I don’t think the college you attended years ago tells much about who you are other than how much of a geek you were in high school.  High School!  You were 16!   And people still talk about their college as a way to impress you!

I studied ALL THE TIME in high school, mostly as a rebellion against my father, who was always telling me it didn’t matter what school I went to, as long as I was “a good person.”  (he attended classes at the University of Hawaii during military service).  I’m serious.  Can you believe that someone in the modern era still said things like “be a good person?”  I used to think he was nuts!  Luckily, I had my mother to take me aside and tell me “not to listen to him” and do my homework. 

My father used to push me to do more social activities rather than my homework.  I thought he was trying to sabotoge my life.  The irony is that he was the squarest 1950’s guy you would ever meet — one who would want you to sit home and do your homework. I think he just wanted me to enjoy life more.  I’m not sure where he got these “hippy” values from.  In retrospect, he might have been right.   If I had spent as much time going out and learning what it was like to feel up a girl as I did on AP Calculus, I would be a lot more normal today.

The big advantage to going to a private elite college is supposedly the networking — the so-called old-boy network (not that I’ve been smart enough to know how to join it).   I was talking to Sophia on the phone about this because I’ve been interested in this new book “The Price of Admission:  How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates” by the Pulitzer-prize winning Wall Street journalist Daniel Golden  (You know he went to some elite college just by seeing how long that title is!).

The books focuses on all the admissions advantages gives to children of alumni and to the offspring of big donors and celebrities.   I needled Sophia because so many Republicans talk about personal responsibility and moral values, then use the back door to get their family members into college.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s dopey son Harrison was admitted into Princeton.  Do you think the $25 million dollars for Princeton’s Frist Campus Center helped?  Five generations of Bushes have gone to Yale, including our current President.  Does he seem like Yale material to you?

I always thought it was bad for America to have these old-boy networks that keep the power out of the reach of so many others who don’t have an “in.”   Why should so many of our business leaders and Senators have gone to the same colleges?  Wouldn’t it be better to get some new points of view?  I know for a fact that there are those who attend city colleges who are as bright as anyone at Princeton, yet don’t have the ability to pay for it, or don’t want to take out loans for the rest of their lives.

Sophia agreed with me, but didn’t take my insulting of Republicans lightly.  Within the hour, she called back and told me to look at Truthdig, the web magazine of Robert Scheer, one of the most prominent progressive journalists on the left.

Sophia:  “Look on the About Page of this very liberal web magazine.  Talk about insular.  The entire staff went to expensive private colleges.  Why do they even bring it up?  What does this have to do with their progressive credentials?  I’d rather see that they worked with the unions or something rather than had parents pay for their education!  Is it because liberals don’t trust anyone unless they go to some elite school like Columbia, Princeton, or USC…?”


Neil:  “Well, USC is not exactly an “elite” school.”

Sophia:  “Well, it is certainly more fancy than where the publisher got her bachelor’s — UC Santa Cruz.  Do you notice that information missing from the About Page — as if a graduate of that school isn’t something to be proud of.  Why are only the private schools listed for everyone to ooh and ahh over?  They’re a bunch of elitists, with an old-boy network as bad as the old fogies on Wall Street!”

Neil:  “That’s ridiculous.  What is this a conspiracy theory?  Maybe the web designer just forgot to add where she went to college.   If you look, they don’t include the college of Robert Scheer either, and he is the main reason for the whole website.”

Sophia:  “OK, let’s see what school he went to.”

We clicked on his link.  Robert Scheer went to City College of New York, which was also somehow missing from the About Page, too. 

Sophia:  “Well now, care to dismount your high horse?”

Uh… maybe Sophia had a point.  Maybe it didn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on.   People will always promote themselves and make themselves look better to others…

So, dear readers, have I told you that I went to a prestigious private college… and did very well in Calculus in high school.  And despite a late start, I now know how to feel a woman up.  My father would be proud.

(thanks Dad for paying for college)


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Sophia Made Me Gay


  1. claire

    I used to think graduating from a top-rated school meant something but not so much anymore.

    My friends who teach college-level often comment on students who want their grades changed, as if they deserve it because they’re paying for it. And then there’s the rampant grade inflation which makes me feel a bit ill because I studied a lot too and probably didn’t have to.

  2. kristen

    My husband’s cousin worked as a teacher at a very prestigous NYC high school, one that sends their graduates to the top-rated colleges around the country. His big joke was that he was teaching AP science classes and was certainly less qualified than the teachers in the public school system who had to have graduate degrees in order to teach. I don’t know where I’m going with this so I’ll just stop.

  3. Non-Highlighted Heather

    I dropped out of high school in March of my senior year. Surfing (waves, not the web) seemed far more important at the time. I guess I wouldn’t make it onto the About Page.

  4. fringes

    Was he born with that smirk? Geez…

    I’m sorry, Neil. Were you saying something?

  5. Scarlet

    I’m obsessed with Yale. If I had gone there I would talk about it nonstop;)

  6. Neil

    Heather, you can surf? Now THAT is impressive!

  7. Tara

    I’m a government housing girl myself. There was no way in hell I was going anywhere other than a state school and even then I had to work over forty hours a week to afford any college at all.

    To me it’s just another luxury – like having an expensive car or designer clothes. I don’t feel I’m less educated than anyone else. Luckily, my state school has one of the best writing programs in the country.

  8. Rabbit

    When I was looking into colleges, Harvard invited me to some swanky party. I didn’t go to the party. I didn’t go to Harvard either. I went to a teeny tiny college that gave me a buttload of financial aid instead.

  9. Jeff

    Sounds like you have nice parents.

    If it’s a decision between playing fair and doing what’s best for *my* kids, I choose the latter. So I won’t fault the elites for this too much.

  10. deezee

    It may not be fair, but it seems that’s how this country is wired…so far. I’m amazed how the high-powered university on my resume has prompted people to make assumptions about me.

    “Oh, you’re a smart girl!”

    I’ve nearly come clean and confessed that I’m as bumbling as the rest, but then I think otherwise…they’ll have plenty of time to figure me out on their own…

  11. deezee

    oh, and that’s for the crush status!…that may serve me better than my degree 😉

  12. cruisin-mom

    Your dad was one smart man Neil.

  13. wendy

    I’m buying that book, and after reading it…requiring my daughter to read it. I give her advice like your dad all the time. She worries about graduating w/less than a 4.65…4.65…What the..?I want her to reach her potential..but wouldn’t send her to Harvard…even if they paid me to..since the pres of that old boys club..Thinks that females are Genetically inferior to males (in math and science). I went to a hoity toity high school in Pasadena…and while the education was great… I never truly fit in… I didn’t have a Bentley..or a maid…I wish people would get that its the mind and the thoughts and the process that counts most..Not the Razzle Dazzle..(sorry, I’m watching CHICAGO.. ) Great post.

  14. Bre

    I agree with you that the prestige of your college has very little to do with who you are as a person, but I will say that finding out why a person chose to attend a specific college or university says an awful lot about what their values are.

    I find it interesting that we have this belief rooted in our heads that Ivy League schools are the only ones that can really offer us a push. That they are the only schools that can offer us the power of networking, when that’s just not the case.

    I attended a fancy liberal arts college that I loved with every fiber of my being, but if I told you the name, you (probably) wouldn’t recognize it. The tuition for this institution was on par with the ivy leaguers and we had our secret society and super secret connections too. (And they help, trust me, they help in an “I feel almost guilty, but wow is that helpful!” way.)

    Now that I work for Big Name University, I figured that connections wouldn’t be as big of a selling point. My little school bosted all sorts of rich and powerful alums. Big Name University can surely name a few, but when you compare the number of students to the huge successes, the percentage was in my Alma Mater’s favor.

    Interestingly enough, connections are one of BNU’s top “selling” points. Because maybe the company CEO isn’t a grad, but the HR rep is. And maybe that super important political figure doesn’t sing the fight song, but the administrative assistant that controls access to him has it set as their ringtone.

    Just food for thought. Higher Ed issues get me (overly) talky…

  15. Danny

    I love your dad. There are parents at my daughter’s school (6th grade!) who are already panicking that they need to transfer their kids into more “elite” middle schools so they can get into the “right” high schools and colleges. While I would want my daughter to go to a college that provides lots of interesting opportunities, I don’t give a f*ck if it’s considered elite. Those kids are probably all killing themselves from the stress.

    And yet, I have to admit that when someone tells me they went to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, I think “ooh, they’re smart.” Then I think, “Christ, we’re in our 40s, why the hell is anyone mentioning what college they went to unless expressly asked?”

  16. Ash

    Thank goodness university is highly subsidised (and incredibly good) here in Holland.

    I’m sure there must be some hierarchy in which school is better but I haven’t heard about it yet. Maybe that will change as my boys grow older.

    To be honest, who really cares? As long as they are happy when they come out the other side. And not crippled with student loan debt.

  17. better safe than sorry

    we don’t have ivy league here, but when my daughter was applying for universities and started getting her acceptances, we suggested she go to the best school she could get into. we’ve always tried to encourage each of our kids to be well rounded, get an education at school, but at the same time, enjoy life with other activities. maybe it’s a lesson in time management? i try to be a good person every day and it’s something i’m hoping my kids will do too, i don’t say it, but i’m hoping they will follow the example i’m trying to set for them. sounds to me like you’re more like your dad than you realize.

  18. rach

    Life’s lessons learnt, how to grope a woman? Hahahahahahahahah

  19. D-Nice

    I don’t get it….I never went to college at all. I got married straight out of High School, had 2 kids, got divorced 13 years later and was forced to get a job and learn skills outside my home. Now I make credit decisions at a major bank!!! Think about this: I actually have the power to approve/decline credit and/or services to businesses that might have been founded by graduates of elite universities…..Moo-ah-hahahaha!!!!!!!! Too funny – life is so crazy!!!!

  20. Rhea

    I am writing to you from Boston. I just wanted to let everyone know that the bad man who ran Harvard and thought women thinkers were inferior to men thinkers has left the college. I am not saying it makes Harvard safe or less elitist, but just that the bad man left.

  21. Brooke

    The only time to brag about what college you went to is the summer after you graduate – or winter – whatever the case may be. After that you sound like an idiot. Going to Yale no more prepares you for the rest of your life than the local university, our president has proven that.

  22. Tatyana

    Neil, is autumn the season for remembrance?

    My liber babe used to irritate me with “the main thing is to become a good person” when I was 12…

    She was right of course, in this as in great many other things. I miss her terribly (it is 20 years as she passed away). She only finished kheder in a small mestechko in the Pale, and she was the one telling my mother – your brothers could have no education and still succeed in life – but you must graduate college!

  23. Tatyana

    As to the Summers departure and what does it mean for Harvard, let’s hear it from the alumni.

  24. Elisabeth

    Back in the mid-seventies, I taught for a year at an “elite” prep school in Wilmington, Delaware. One of my students, who was mediocre at best, was actually convinced that his father would get him into Harvard. I never found out if that student ever made it into Harvard.

    I teach at a state school and, if some of our students have average (or even rather low) SAT scores, many are incredibly bright, and do very well.

    One of my colleagues has an undergraduate degree from Yale, and never really recovered from it.

  25. Alexandra

    I think the diffeence is that a lot more liberals probably EARNED their way into these elite, private colleges than got in because they are the son or daughter of Bush Sr, or so and so. One of the things that has most irked me is that many people say they voted for Bush because they felt like he was a more “fun-type” guy who would be more enjoyable to hang out with, which I’m sure would have been true for some who love to drink heavily, seeing as Bush was an alcoholic for many years, including when he was a father. (nice role model, eh?) People pointed to Gore as too wooden, on the boring side. I found that whole attitude nauseating as I WANT a President who is much smarter than me, who I feel like I am actively learning from every time I hear him speak, who has an insatiable appetite for books and learning. Bush, the son of a wealthy millionaire family, never even had the curiosity, with all that $ at his disposal, to travel overseas before he was forced to as President. I find that such a stunning glimpse into a man who truly should never have been President. There were several Republicans who would have been truly worthy of this job who were not former alcoholic, run every business (and state) into the ground that he governed, draft dodgers. And I bet that we could have found someone who didn’t weasel his way into Yale and snatch the spot from someone who truly deserved it.

  26. MA

    It would be more fun to be a rock star than go to college. You can quote me on that one, Neil. (It must be pretty obvious that I didn’t got to elite schools.)

  27. Neil

    Alexandra — I hate to play devil’s advocate, but you would need to show me evidence that liberals probably EARNED their way into Harvard more often than conservatives. There are a lot of wealthy, well-connected liberals around, too. I brought up President Bush because he is such a blatant example, but I’m sure this is a more of a wealth/class thing than one of political party.

  28. Danny

    I agree with Neil. I can think of plenty of liberal families who pull their weight to get their kids into certain schools, that kind of privilege knows no political boundaries and is nauseating wherever it happens including with the Bush family. But I agree with Alexandra that I WANT a President who is smarter than me. I know Bush is not the total idiot that the left (including me) like to paint him as, but I’m curious if your Republican readers would acknowledge that no matter what they think about Clinton, he was WAAAAAY more informed about the world and U.S. history than Bush could ever be. Without even getting into a discussion about the men’s “values” or how much they think that kind of intelligence matters to the presidency and the country, can we all agree that Bill Clinton was an academic genius compared to the likes of George W. Bush? (I realize that my question is a bit loaded and probably won’t illicit a neutral response but everything else aside, I sure do miss having a leader who possesses that kind of intelligence.)

  29. Neil

    How could Clinton be smarter than Bush? He only went to Georgetown!

  30. CrankMama

    I have huge loans to prove the importance of my grad degree from University of Chicago. Other than that, I’m unemployed and surrounded by Republicans so let that be a lesson to you.

  31. schrodinger

    The USC mafia is a LIE! I shoulda gone to Yale – at least then I could have been President.

  32. Jody

    Clinton is a Rhodes Scholar too!

    USC – isn’t that The University of South Carolina? What’s so special or elite about that? 🙂

  33. Dagny

    lol Jody. When I was growing up, folks around here always said that USC stood for “University of Spoiled Children.”

    Me? I chose to go to public universities. Then again, I remember when the Harvard recruiters showed up at my high school. They said that they were flattered that we would consider Harvard but it didn’t make much sense to them as our state had a fine public university system that cost substantially less than Harvard.

  34. Jody

    Dagny – I love your description even better! Albeit – it only works on the West Coast – there is nothing spoiling about the other USC!

  35. Jody

    Dagny – I forgot – wouldn’t much rather be a Trojan than a Gamecock?

  36. ElizaF

    I still haven’t made up my mid how to approach the college question with my kids. I went after a few years gap and as a result of that worked very well but only after I realised I didn’t want to empty ashtrays as a beer-soaked barmaid for the rest of my days. Perhaps your dad was being more clever then you realised although we never suspect our parents to be clever enough for reverse psych. ….. ;)E.

  37. Sweet

    Funny I was thinking similar thoughts today when I saw the Faces of the Fallen exhibit today at Arlington National Cemetery. As we walked away from it my sister and I both agreed that the majority of the faces we saw of men and women who have died in Iraq seemed like ‘good ole boys,’ in essence, the working blue-collar class of America. Here they were, those who had lost their lives, and it was priviledged Yalie boys like Bush (who I don’t think is Yale material by the way)who decided they should go over there.

  38. modigli

    Now that I’ve read all those comments, I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say. Hmph.

    That picture you dug up with Bush Sr. and (I assume) George W. is scary. Bush the Elder looks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, with that evil half smile. I can hear the thoughts rumbling in his head “Yes, my son, our plan has been laid. Even though you haven’t yet learned to walk, you have already been accepted to Yale. And with all our Yale connections, we will rule the world! Excellent! Excellent!”

    BTW, I work in a snooty public school district, and have already had a parent track me down because I didn’t give her child full credit on a homework assignment. They’re concerned about how the child’s middle school transcripts might affect their college options. Jaysus! How did I get here? Is this what it’s really all about?!

  39. Dustin

    Niel, don’t you know? Where you go to college is directly related to what level of heaven you get into…at least that’s how important my guidance counselor in HS always made it seem.

    KJ says that Columbia wasn’t any harder learning curve wise than the University we both went to in WA. The only real difference she claims is that the profs. were A.) more senile, and B.) assigned 10x as much homework.

    I added that the local pizza was better but she didn’t seem to think that affected the academic outcome. How wrong she is. =)

  40. Dawn

    Can there be a prestigious public school? No? Nevermind.

    (Go Badgers!!)

  41. Dagny

    Jodi, Gamecock? ROFL. When I am in that part of the country, I have to remind myself that there is actually a different kind of USC. Somehow whenever I think of SC, I think Clemson. Then again I dated a guy who went there. As far as mascots go, whenever I think of the one from my undergrad (Tritons), I can rest easy knowing that there is worse. The Banana Slugs of UCSC comes to mind.

    And Dawn, Berkeley, Michigan, and UVA like to think of themselves as prestigious public schools. In fact I have been told that legacies of Berkeley have different admissions requirements than those for everyone else.

  42. Neil

    My worst Columbia experience was taking Shakespeare with Frank Kermode, who is one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars from Britian, and having to keep my eyes opened as he mumbled his lectures.

  43. Brooke

    Seriously, that picture has got to be the strongest argument for birth control I have ever seen.

  44. deannie

    I laughed and laughed with the closing paragraph where you proudly proclaim that you now know how to feel up a woman and then the archive link is, “Sophia made me gay”. Oh Neil…


  45. Paris Parfait

    Very clever piece. That “good ‘ole boy” network is also alive and well in Europe. Makes you wonder what would happen if everyone had the same educational opportunities.

  46. Dave G

    I think parents’ current obsession with getting their children into the BEST SCHOOL IN THE WORLD is from a study awhile back that showed Ivy Leaguer graduates made X% more than state school graduates. Their kids make more, they will be better able to provide for me when I retire, kind of thinking.

    What the study didn’t investigate was if the greater income was a product of the superior schooling of the Ivys or the greater motivation and work ethic of the students.

    In an effort to control for this, researchers found kids who had been accepted to Ivy League schools but instead opted to attend state schools. They found there was no variation of income. The greater income was almost entirely derived from the kids’ motivation, not the school he/she attended.

  47. Caitlinator

    I got my first undergraduate degree from NYU and I have to say that although NYU was a great school, it was absolutely useless in the end. I’m getting my second degree from CUNY Queens College and it will still get me where I need to go in life.

    This relates a little back to your issue about race and men’s vs. women’s intelligence. In general, maybe people who go to the higher caliber schools are smarter than those who don’t, but there are probably tens of thousands of individuals who prove that generality wrong one way or another.

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