I was having lunch with my friend Jeff the other day.
“You’re living like a homeless person,” he said. “Stanford must be so proud.”
I thought that was funny. And Stanford doesn’t care. The Stanford community is quite accepting of its lower-wage earners.
In fact, a Stanford student found pawing through a dumpster behind Trader Joe’s would be regarded with whimsy. We might assume she was a hipster or political progressive. But a Harvard graduate diving in the same dumpster would draw shock and disgust and bring great shame to his dynasty.
Harvard students are held to a completely different standard of judgment than kids from the west coast.
This is due to the preconceived notion that Harvard grads uniformly occupy prestigious positions in society. It is not entirely false. Over 30% of Harvard grads last year took jobs in finance or consulting. Another sizeable fraction went into business or law. These graduates are either making money right away or have fairly predictable paths to wealth.
Furthermore, 18.6% of current and former US presidents have Harvard degrees. Only Herbert Hoover went to Stanford, and you don’t even know who that is.
As an alum, mentioning Harvard is referred to as “Dropping the H-Bomb” because it results in one of two outcomes — If you are in fact successful by societal standards, then it’s an immodest display of superiority. But if you are not well on your way to the oval office or corner office at Goldman or JP Morgan, you’re dragging down the reputation of Harvard.
The purveyor of an H-Bomb is instantly deemed either a snob or a failure. When you take a conventional path, there are few allowances for deviation.
Stanford wants its graduates to be wildly successful too, of course. But the west coast culture acknowledges that the path to success is not always a straight shot to the moon, and it isn’t always socially upward.
Stanford’s second-biggest donor, Bob King, was (and still is) a philanthropist who took foreign students into his home. He gave one of those poor foreigners some seed money to start a little company called Baidu.
Stanford’s third-biggest donor, Phil Knight, spent half a decade driving to high schools to sell shoes from the trunk of his car. He called those shoes Nike.
I still love Harvard, but if I end up panhandling the streets of San Francisco, I’ll be wearing my Stanford sweatshirt.