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COLLEGE YEARS




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Andrew Eliot’s Diary

 

May 112, 1983

 

 

My Harvard Twenty-fifth Reunion is next month and I am scared to death.

Scared to face all my successful classmates, walking back on paths of glory, while I have nothing to show for my life except a few gray hairs.

Today a heavy, red-bound book arrived that chronicles all the achievements of The Class of ’58. It really brought home my own sense of failure.

I stayed up half the night just staring at the faces of the guys who once were undergraduates with me, and now are senators and governors, world-famous scientists and pioneering doctors. Who knows which of them will end up on a podium in Stockholm? Or the White House lawn?

And what’s amazing is that some are still married to their first wives.

A few of the most glittering successes were close friends of mine. The roommate I once thought of as a fruitcake is the candidate likeliest to be our next Secretary of State. The future President of Harvard is a guy I used to lend my clothes to. Another, whom we barely noticed, has become the musical sensation of our age.

The bravest of them all laid down his life for something he believed in. His heroism humbles me.

And I return, resplendent in my disappointment.

I am the last Eliot of a great line to enter Harvard. My ancestors were all distinguished men. In war, in peace, in church, in science, and in education. As recently as 1948, my cousin Tom received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

But the brilliance of the family tradition has grown dim with me. I don’t even hold a candle to Jared Eliot (Class of 1703), the man who introduced rhubarb to America.

Yet I do have one tenuous connection with my noble forebears. They were diarists. My namesake, Reverend Andrew Eliot, ’37, while bravely tending his parishioners, kept a daily record — still extant — describing what the Revolutionary War was like during the siege of Boston in 1776.

The moment the city was liberated, he hurried to a meeting of the Harvard Board of Overseers to move that General George Washington be given an honorary doctorate.

His son inherited his pulpit and his pen, leaving a vivid account of America’s first days as a republic.



Naturally, there’s no comparison, but I’ve been keeping notebooks all my life as well. Maybe that’s the single remnant of my heritage. I’ve observed history around me, even if I didn’t make any of it.

Meanwhile, I’m still scared as hell.

 

 

COLLEGE YEARS

 

We took the world as given. Cigarettes

Were twenty-several cents a pack, and gas

As much per gallon. Sex came wrapped in rubber

And veiled in supernatural scruples — call

Them chivalry…

 

Psychology was in the mind; abstract

Things grabbed us where we lived; the only life

Worth living was the private life, and — last,

Worst scandal in this characterization —

We did not know we were a generation.

JOHN UPDIKE,

CLASS OF 1954

 

 

***

 

They glanced at one another like tigers taking measure of a menacing new rival.

But in this kind of jungle you could never be sure where the real danger lurked.

It was Monday, September 20, 1954. Eleven hundred sixty-two of the best and brightest young men in the world were lined up outside that monstrous Victorian Gothic structure known as Memorial Hall. To register as members of the future Harvard Class of ’58.



Running the sartorial spectrum from Brooks Brothers to hand-me-downs, they were variously impatient, terrified, blasé, and numb. Some had traveled thousands of miles, others a few blocks. Yet all knew that they were now merely at the beginning of the greatest journey of their lives.

Shadrach Tubman, son of the president of Liberia, flew from Monrovia via Paris to New York’s Idlewild Airport, whence he was driven to Boston in his Embassy’s limousine.

John D. Rockefeller, IV, unpretentiously took the train up from Manhattan and splurged on a taxi from South Station to the Yard.

Apparently the Aga Khan simply epiphanized. (Other rumors had it that he’d flown there on a magic carpet — or a private jet.) In any case, he stood in line waiting to register just like any mortal.

These freshmen had arrived already luminaries. They had been born directly into the limelight.

But on this last day of summer 1954, more than a thousand other potential comets were waiting to burst from dark anonymity to light up the sky.

Among them were Daniel Rossi, Jason Gilbert, Theodore Lambros, and Andrew Eliot.

They — and a fifth, still half a world away — are the heroes of this story.

 


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