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Cross-Registering Across the River

I never intended to cross-register at Harvard’s Business School. As a high school teacher in Wisconsin, I never even intended to attend Harvard. I only applied to goad a former student and graduating senior into applying to Harvard’s undergraduate program. He wouldn’t hear of it. Wisconsin was too removed from Harvard-the great and daunting icon of academia.

So, after forty-five minutes of fruitless coaxing, I said: “Fine, if you won’t go, I will.”
At first, my application was a feint, a spontaneous, nonsensical gesture. However, I extended my feint, secured an application, completed it, and waved it before the student’s face. It worked. It flushed him from the cover of his small town assumptions and he applied too. Then something inexplicable happened. Harvard’s Graduate School of Education called my bluff and admitted me as Harvard College admitted my former student.

So, I too was flushed from Wisconsin. I found myself in a city after twenty years of brown-eyed cows, picket fences and dewy pastures.

In late August, on my first walk about Harvard, I passed between two monoliths: Harvard Stadium and Harvard’s Business School. It was an uneasy passage for a Wisconsin schoolmarm, like creeping between sleeping lions. The hoary, creaky lion was Harvard Stadium. With its Grecian lines and history of national championships, it monumentalized both the ancient might of Athens and the yellowing memories of gridiron supremacy. To my left, however, lay the ever more muscular, still supple, and dominant lion of the B-School. It monumentalized the brawn of the corporate world.
Tom Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities, named the bond traders the “Masters of the Universe.”

I’d watch someone turn into the palatial B-School campus and think: “That’s a real Master of the Universe.”
I had yet to venture onto the campus itself, and my disinclination to do so was elevated when I first heard of “cold calling.”

“What’s that?” I asked an Ed School classmate who’d worked at the B-School.
“It means the professors may call upon you anytime and you’re expected to know an answer,” she explained.
“And…if…you…don’t?” I asked.

She pursed her lips and sighed mournfully through her nose.
Soooo, not only did the B-School have the swell of buildings, a pedigreed history, the monetary might and intellectual acumen, but they had the terror of the cold call!?! On my across the river walks, I kept an even warier eye on the Masters of the Universe and their Versailles.

Then, in November, I had my first chance to talk with a card carrying B-School student. We were both taking the infamous Leadership class at KSG. I’d always wondered why this guy had the natty name card that was half again as high as the rest of ours. Not only was it bigger, but it was set pretty in plastic. Someone said that he was a B-School student. It was my opportunity to actually approach a Master of the Universe. I sidled up to him at a party.

“So, what would it be like if I took a class at HBS?” I jested.
“You’d do fine. You should do it,” he suggested.
“But what about the cold calling!?!” I pushed, bug-eyed and disbelieving that he’d actually suggest that I cross the river and cross-register.

“If you can survive Leadership at KSG, you can survive the B-School,” he asserted.
It got me thinking-I didn’t have to sneak past the B-School? I could cross the river, enter the lion’s mouth, and actually remerge? I started shopping for classes, but as I did, my mantra was: “Nice kitty, kitty, kitty.”

To be continued next week with Into the Lion’s Mouth

April 9, 2001
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