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What guidance do you have for a gentlefreshman starting college?
Thank you for your letter.
The first part of the first rule of campus behavior—Don’t do anything egregiously stupid—is sometimes difficult for an 18-year-old to obey, so he really needs to memorize the second part of the first rule of campus behavior: Try to learn something from the egregiously stupid thing you have done. This process is sometimes referred to as education.
That’s the basic idea. I further encourage first-year students to see what they can glean from my notes on a select handful of colleges.
Harvard College offers an accredited four-year program within a private research university seated near the Charles River. Though Harvard does not rank as our most gentlemanly place of higher learning—a distinction ruled out by the boorishness of president emeritus Lawrence Summers—it is our oldest and boasts the most powerful brand name. Thus, handing down to its undergraduates a rule about acquiring clothes reflective of school pride and pridefulness, I hope to influence their peers across the nation.
Harvardians: You may tastefully own three (3) pieces of clothing emblazoned with the Harvard name—one (1) T-shirt, one (1) sweatshirt, and one (1) further item stocked at the Coop, such as a knit cap or a pair of running shorts. You may nonchalantly wear only one (1) of these at any given moment. You may tastefully own additional pieces of H-bomb-irradiating athletic gear only if you are a member of a particular team exalted thereon and not just some kind of poser. If you need to ask whether the new Harvard-branded, Boston-accented "Wicked Smaaht" T-shirt is at all tasteful, then I need to wonder whether you are in fact intelligent enough to merit acceptance to Bunker Hill Community College.
Princeton University was founded in 1746 as a finishing school, more or less, and almost accidentally became academically excellent two centuries later. Until recently, it was alone among the members of its athletic conference—the Ivy League, that mirage of an institution before which the citizenry is senselessly destined to tremble—in maintaining a student-run Honor Code, one requiring students to report any suspicion that a classmate has cheated on an in-class test. Thus, the exam rooms of Old Nassau are some of the few places where it is not just appropriate but necessary for a gentleman to fink on his friends. Tigers, please heed the story of the alumnus who, long after graduation, while reminiscing with chums about youthful misdeeds, confessed to having cheated on an exam, and was promptly ratted out.
Also, buy a tuxedo, for God's sake. Princeton men have perhaps half a dozen opportunities to wear one each year. Though it is no longer considered gauche to wear your interview suit to formal dances, doing so will cause distress to a garment intended to impress authority figures by the broad light of day. For the monkey business of your social life, you want to invest in a monkey suit that can take a lot of wear and tear. Talk to a tailor about reinforcing its seams and consider an application of Scotchgard Outdoor Water Shield.
Other colleges are good, too, sometimes, and America’s three remaining all-male secular colleges place a special emphasis on shaping their boys into gentlemen.