In The End, Only Work, Love Matter


In The End, Only

Work, Love Matter

Venerable Harvard Yard, left, and Hartwick College’s centerpiece, Founders Way, dedicated in 2017.

The ironic thing about actress Felicity Huffman and many other well-heeled parents bribing college officials to get their students into top schools is:  It doesn’t matter.

Human beings have lived for 200,000 years. No one’s sure how many of us have walked this Earth, but a common “best guess” is 105 billion.

All but a tiny fraction of those, you must know, never heard of Harvard, Yale or Stanford. Even today, only a fraction of the 7.2 billion living on Earth have heard of the Ivy League – or would care if they had.

Now get this: Despite the inevitable challenges we all face, many of those 105 billion, and today’s 7.2 billion, are living satisfactory lives, some more joyful than others, all containing moments of happiness, and sometimes much more.

This being a local paper, there’s a local angle, beyond all of us knowing a happy person, or two, or many more.

With 10 more of those overreaching parents due to be sentenced this week – perhaps to short prison terms – Malcolm Gladwell’s comparison of Harvard University with Hartwick College from “David and Goliath” (2013) comes to mind.

Gladwell compared the number of STEM students – in the rigorous science, technology, engineering and math fields – at Harvard and at Hartwick.

He found: Even though Harvard’s bottom third of STEM students have higher SATs than the top third at Hartwick, “students in the bottom third of the Harvard class give up on challenging math and science studies just as much as their counterparts in Upstate
New York.”

Comparing themselves to the geniuses at the top of the class, Harvard’s bottom third become “so demoralized … many of them drop out of science entirely and transfer to some non-science major.”

Dipping into another analysis, Gladwell finds “the likelihood of someone completing a STEM degree … rises by 2 percentage points for every 10-point decrease in the university’s average SAT score.

In the case of a young woman considering STEM programs, he figures she would reduce her chances of success by 30 percent by choosing Brown over the University of Maryland. “Thirty percent!” he exclaims.

“The smarter your peers, the dumber you feel,” said Gladwell. “The dumber you feel, the more likely you are to drop out of science.”

This isn’t to dis Harvard.

If you get in – as a number of lively, brainy, disciplined, accomplished Otsego County high school graduates do every decade – great. When you do go, and are surrounded by all those geniuses, don’t forget: You’re plenty smart or you wouldn’t be there.

Elsewhere, it’s been noted U.S. presidents – until lately, exemplars of American accomplishment – were predominantly from small towns, from Niles, Ohio, to West Branch, Iowa, to Tampico, Ill. In small towns, according to one theory, young future presidents learned they could influence their surroundings, and emerged self-confident
they could save the world.

Many didn’t go to college, but “read law,” and many went to fine smaller colleges
like Hartwick – Kenyon, Bowdoin, Union. Harry S Truman went to Spalding
Commercial College in Kansas City, Mo. – and dropped out.

So two cheers for Otsego County – home of small towns, and of Hartwick College.

Even that’s beside the point.

Two-thirds of Americans don’t have college degrees, and many of them – as all of us know from our neighbors – are living happy lives, with meaningful jobs, surrounded by loving family.

One caveat, don’t forget that Brookings’ study from 2014, identifying – statistically – three ways young people can achieve economic security: One, finish high school; two, work fulltime; three, don’t marry and start a family until you’re 21.

Nor is this in praise of poverty. No way.

Let’s go back where we started. Fifteen parents may go to jail this week for something that doesn’t matter.

What did Freud say? Love and work are the sole requirements of a happy life.

Felicity Huffman, husband William Macy and their daughters.

When Huffman’s daughter Sophia learned the news, she told her mother, “Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?” mom Felicity testified.

“I had no adequate answer for her then,” the mother continued, “I have no adequate answer for her now. I can only say, I am so sorry, Sophia. I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong.”

Go Hawks! Go Red Dragons, for that matter – SUNY Oneonta has success
stories aplenty as well.  Even further: Go Oneonta Yellowjackets! Go Cooperstown Redsk…, er, Hawkeyes!

The means to happiness may be simpler than we often think.

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