Friday, June 8, 2018

College Recruiting

In George Kennan's Memoirs 1925-1950, chapter "A Personal Note", a paragraph reads
I came to Princeton directly from St. John's Military Academy. The progression was not a usual one. I owed it partly to the excitement and sense of revelation derived from reading Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise in my senior year at school, and partly to the help and encouragement of the St. John's dean, the late Henry Holt, a modest, shrewd, and dedicated pedagogue.
In On the Decay of Criticism: The Complete Essays of W.M. Spackman, in "A Conversation with W.M. Spackman" there appears
Interviewer: Was Princeton your first choice for college?

Spackman: No, I was going to Cornell. But then I read This Side of Paradise--we all did then--and began to rethink my choice. Of my class of probably a dozen boys, one went to Harvard, one went to M.I.T., and six of us came up here. But look at this, two-thirds of the class go to the top universities! That was the kind of education we got in those days.

Interviewer: I have read that Fitzgerald's novel had that kind of influence. It's hard now to imagine--
Kennan graduated from Princeton with the Class of 1925, Spackman with the class of 1927. It is clear from what they write that Spackman a better time in college, not surprisingly: he was nearer home, he almost certainly had more money, and I infer that he had a generally more cheerful disposition. By the early 1950s, both were back in Princeton, Kennan at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Spackman as an independent writer.

It seems to me that I read This Side of Paradise while I was in high school, though I can give no account of the book now. It certainly did not occur to me that I might or ought to attend Princeton. A fellow a year ahead of me might have read the novel and found inspiration: he was admitted to Princeton, but for the following year, and spent his gap year working. At any rate, few in my class went very far away from Denver, and the famous novel about Colorado State or Creighton is yet to be written.

Are there now books that make students change their college choices? I suppose there might be. On the other hand, the high school student of today is often considerably more emancipated--or, if you will, unsupervised and undisciplined--than the high school student of 1920. It may be harder to create excitement about college.

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