54 years ago, I wrote a personal essay to accompany my application to Radcliffe College, now subsumed into Harvard University. At the time, girls applied to Radcliffe and boys to Harvard. Our classes were held jointly and our degrees were awarded by Harvard. Even at 17 I had difficulty trying to condense my achievements and hopes into a brief essay.
Now, as my 50th college reunion is next summer, I received the second of what I expect to be a series of gentle reminders to fill out the questionnaire mailed to me at the beginning of June. It sat unopened until I sat down to write this post, assuming–correctly–that I would be hard pressed to know how to respond to the queries.
For instance, “What do you consider your most important accomplishment of the past fifty years?” Or alternatively, “Looking back, have you done with your life what you thought you were going to do?” And, by the way, try to say it with “reasonable brevity!”
I have dutifully read our class reports which are issued every five years. As you might guess, given the alumni, they have been full of glowing achievements, awards, titles, fellowships, charitable board service and the like. I found myself as insecure reading them as I had felt when I first arrived, by train, at college at 18. But now we are mostly retired. Some have died. Some have dementia. Some have lost spouses and children.
What do I expect to read when I pick up the 50th annual report? Can I embrace the last fifty years free of comparison to the submissions of my classmates? Can I find a truthful way to answer the question? Where do I begin?