Harvard Schmarvard

Harvard University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Harvard University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I used to think that people who had degrees from Harvard had arrived into the elite upper echelon of higher education. Like most people who have seen Love Story, and Good Will Hunting, I pictured Harvard guys a certain way. Preppy, sophisticated, erudite and of course, rich.

Then I met my husband.

It’s not that the guy isn’t witty or smart–I married him, didn’t I? It’s just that he isn’t exactly any of those other things that I had previously associated with a Harvard education. People have a surprised reaction whenever they find out where Zak went to school. It is probably because he looks like more of a UC Santa Cruz kind of guy, or one of those kids in that new movie, Accepted, who invents their own college when they can’t get in anywhere else. People are either appalled, like my cousin Todd, who coughed up an entire six pack when he found out Zak went to Harvard; or impressed, like my friend Sienna, who immediately suggested she take us out to an expensive dinner so she could start sucking up to get her four-year-old son in.

I was actually impressed by Zak’s Harvard pedigree when we first met. That is until I realized that despite his English degree, he’s better schooled in the works of Stephen King than he is in those of F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that he would never deign to actually use any of those seven figure college connections to, oh say, try to get a frickin’ job.

Needless to say, we’ve developed a friendly collegiate rivalry over the years, though it’s not really much of a competition. My alma mater, UCLA, continues to stack up basketball and football championships while Harvard alumni rule the lesser worlds of politics and Nobel prizes. Clearly I come from the superior school.

Did I mention that with only a minor in English and a major in frat boys, I’ve read more classic literature than my husband, Mr. English Degree from Harvard, ever did? Or that MY college loans have been paid off for more than a decade? And that there’s never been an American president who went to UCLA?

Despite the clear superiority I feel in being a Bruin, I have to admit I took a little bit of pleasure in this week’s Time Magazine cover story, titled “Who Needs Harvard?” Especially when the next day’s news logged a defeat for Harvard in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, which rates Princeton over its Ivy League rival. That UCLA was ranked number 26 didn’t faze me a bit, as my husband gently pointed out. We Bruins know better than to put our faith in things like college rankings, unless they are from the NCAA.

While the U.S. News and World Report rankings take things like endowments into account, there’s more to a great college experience than sitting in a beautiful library. What about sitting in a library full of beautiful people? UCLA’s close proximity to Hollywood and Southern California’s year-round sunshine make for an exceptionally photogenic student body. Score one for UCLA.

Then there’s our superior five squirrel rating. According to the annual rankings published by Academic Squirrels of California and Beyond (www.gottshall.com/squirrels/campsq.htm) which uses the simple algorithm that the quality of an institution is directly related to the number of squirrels on its campus, the size, girth and health of UCLA’s squirrel population is second only to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. And that’s only because those squirrels have had 156 years of federal government protection. And they got extra squirrel points for having Rocky and Bullwinkle as their mascots. Harvard ranks a lowly three on the squirrel-o-meter because squirrels, like everything else, tend to freeze their nuts in those unpleasant east coast winters.

Score two more for UCLA, for furry friends and weather.

Then there’s the school pride factor. While proud Bruin alumni line up alongside busloads of tourists to purchase the latest in bear wear fashions, you’ll never spot a real Harvard grad in a Harvard sweatshirt. It’s like they are too cool to admit it or something. When I went with Zak to his 10-year college reunion, they gave us crimson hats that said “HR class of 1987,” like it was a secret code or something! What could possibly be so great about a school that people don’t want to admit they went to?

Finally, though, it all comes down to mascots. UCLA has the bruin. A bear. How cool is that? Harvard has crimson. A color. A color you have to have a degree from Harvard to identify. Crimson is the color a Harvard student’s nose turns when he’s out in the snow trying to cheer on his sorry excuse for a football team.

Harvard Schmarvard, indeed.

When Leslie’s not out in the sunshine, cheering on the Bruins, she can be reached at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 25, 2006.