Smacking the Ivy Off Each Other

These young men and women will one day, one day very soon, be managing huge hedge funds, litigating at the largest firms, and take their place among the country’s best and brightest.

Last Saturday they spent the night punching each other in the face in front of a cheering crowd.

sign out front

Every year the students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business square off against the law school for Philly Fight Night. The proceeds from the event go to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, this year they raised $90,000, but that isn’t why people go. We went to watch ivy league kids punch each other in the face.


Missushammas and I sat down with our programs and began picking our horses. Lets see… Matt “American Psycho” Magan 170 lbs. vs Konstantin “the Doctor” Gromov 195 lbs. I pick Gromov. Samuel Rech from Italy vs. Zach Garland from Texas? Look at the picture, Sam is too pretty, and he’s from Italy? Zach all the way. And so it goes on down the line, us predicting winners based on pictures and nicknames. Then the lights go down and the music starts. We are ready for them to rumble.


Fight night is only 60% fighting and 40% dramatic entrances.  As fighters names are called we watched  entourages of dancers, military processions, and skits usually including the fighter knocking out a crowd of mean looking stooges. When the bell rings it is obvious more time went into the entrances than the fighting.

Oh the fighting.cheers

I call it video game fighting. At the bell the two fighters approach each other and begin flailing wildly as if someone is blindly hitting the Xbox buttons as fast as they can. Such fights end in one of two ways, dramatic knockout in the first round, or two fighters exhausted and leaning on each other after one minute of action.

The first three fights were knockouts.bowtie and sparkly

After 8 fights I picked six right, the Mrs. only one. I beamed with pride as I am rarely right when the two of us shirtsThe next day I was asked “were there any good fights?” There was one. Do not get me wrong, there were lots of entertaining fights, but those are not the same as good fights. The last bout squared off Mark Wales of Australia vs Giancarlo Albelice of the United States Marine Corps. There were no windmill punches or corkscrew whiffs, but rather heads moving side to side and jabs. Two heavyweights actually boxing. It was beautiful. boxersThe American won. He looked a little less skilled but was much more the  aggressor. This was a vulgar crowd that appreciated offense over defense, power over finesse. And we, my date and I, appreciated it all.tie guy

When Everything Else Comes Alive, the School Year Dies

My time at school is very likely limited. Graduation is in May and my job hunt is in full swing. Perhaps the school will hire me in some capacity, perhaps they will not.

The trees and kids on campus are blooming. The sidewalks and lawns are loud, socks have disappeared, and I still have approximately 100 pages to write, and possibly 700 pages to read. The reading will go easy enough, the writing not so much.

On the same day I got the news I passed my comprehensive exam, I crashed my car. No injuries other than my celebratory mood, and my bank account. As the term winds down and graduation, a happy thing, draws near, the pixie dust is being blown off this whole place. School is not free and as I work to keep my grades where I need them to be, job applications and cover letters compete for mind share and time.

I have done this once before; graduated from college and applied for jobs, but then I was younger. I still have dreams. The failure of my dreams to die is why I came back for another degree. They say hope springs eternal, but every spring gets scorched by summer and then frozen by winter. I have not reached my winter years or even my autumn, but my flowers have grown into leaves. I am looking for fruit.

My wife emails me job postings every day. This one is in Hawaii, or that one is right up your alley. I apply, or I don’t, and that 100 pages I have to write isn’t yet 99.

But as I said, I have been here before. It didn’t go so well the first time and I am still alive. Really, in light of my dreams and aspirations, it went horribly, and here I am now. I look up from the job postings and see blossoms and blue skies. I look back down to my books and love what I read. I look at my life right now, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now, and it is good. It is better than good but I temper my enthusiasm to keep on task.

I love my now. I do not intend to miss it.

One Semester Down, but Not Out

I read a lot of books and articles.  This is one semester of grad school.

I expected the workload to be heavy, but I did not expect this. I should have photographed the Dr. Seuss I supplemented this with at home, or perhaps the discussion group my seven year held around the table and in the car regarding her having read Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She is also looking forward to holding me accountable for my report card. Aaaah karma.

Now maybe I am just old, strike that, I am old, and because of this I expected all the above but I did not foresee the below.

I swear they are just kids... no I'm just old.

No, its not that I failed to foresee classmates, but rather having a cohort of cool people I actually like. I normally have no problem liking people, in fact I’m quite good at liking people, but this was sort of ridiculous. Now forgive my cheese, after all I attended three functions this last week that included brie, but dog-gone-it, the admissions people at this place picked some fine folks.

I did not move here for school, I have a home, I have a life that pre-dates my cohort. I don’t need them, still I like them. I recall that guy in undergrad, the one you look at and wonder, “how did he get here?” I have looked and he is not here. She isn’t here either. Now that is not to say everyone is normal, need I remind you of the elf guy from a previous post?

I pulled out my calendar and crossed off the last day of the semester. I’m done. My program only has one more and I’m knocking on my wooden desk right now, but after all the stress, all the work, all the chaos of jumbled schedules, I’m still enjoying this.

And even better than a dancing elf in class… Claire’s reaction.

A Bit of What I Have Been Writing in Place of this Blog

Thelin Precis part 1

It is likely that no institution(s), other than government, has had a greater and deeper effect on the citizens of the United States than colleges and Universities. Perhaps it is because these organizations and institutions proudly predate our current government. In his book A History of American Higher Education, John R. Thelin attempts to chronicle how these institutions, or higher education as an industry, grew in prominence, and evolved in concept and practice through time. This cross cut of time, or “horizontal history” as he calls it, is intended to give the reader a broader and deeper understanding of any given institution’s singular history, while illustrating its place and relevance in the bigger picture or context of any given period. He proposes to challenge the traditional ideas of the American college narrative by presenting facts and figures from multiple sources on a single subject, as well as stories and examples from the lives of individual players, all with the hope that challenged notions and expanded visions will inspire increased interest and investigation. Perhaps his endeavor can be deemed a success in that the spanning overview does bring up more questions than it offers answers.

One prevailing theme, that begs additional questioning is the idea that college enrolment, as well as course offerings, were a response to market forces. Thelin presents his history in chronological chunks, or eras, telling of how the concepts and philosophies changed over time, and then presents the affiliated enrolment numbers, and even budgets, right alongside, to better illustrate the potential reasons or results of evolving philosophies. This method of reporting is maintained from the founding of institutions, through transitional periods, usually the turning of  centuries or thrashings of war, and everyone, the colleges and the country, adjust together.

For example, the idea is forwarded that colonial colleges were primarily tools of socialization for the sons of the gentry, instructing them in the classics, a practice which possessed no practical value other than giving these young men the time and opportunity to broaden their horizons and shoulders with others of their own class. To help illustrate his point that academics were not the primary purpose of colleges, Thelin points out the lack of set admission standards, the general lack of standardized primary education institutions, and, in my opinion the most poignant point, the insight that no profession at the time required a degree. From this idea Thelin progresses to the expansion of colleges beyond the elite Northeast, into state funded schools, and the geographical spread into the South and Midwest. As all this happens, various schools shift ideas and new structures evolve (college vs. university), and as any good in the market, prices and demands of education shift in tune. I am sure Thelin’s facts are accurate, but the portrait painted is incomplete.

If a Bachelor of Arts, or even science, had no power in the market at large, then its value must come from somewhere else. That somewhere else is never identified. Higher education is treated as if it is its own marketplace, only being affected by the biggest and strongest outside forces (wars). For instance there is attention given to the rise of disciplines such as business and engineering into curriculums, while no real attention is given as to why. We are still told that as these disciplines rose, one still had no need of a degree to work professionally in those fields, and by following the numbers we can still see that only an elite few enrolled in college; why then the rise of those fields as areas of academic study? What was the value? If a degree in a practical field, had no practical value in that field, then why was it offered? It is impossible to know from the facts presented. Answers would require looking at context outside the text.

Also left untreated in the text is the market benefit of churches sponsoring schools. Thelin states that while Harvard may have begun with the idea, no matter how insincere, of schooling and preparing candidates for the ministry, as time progressed fewer and fewer graduate became ministers. This pattern of non ministering graduates was well in place when other denominations and locations began founding schools. Not only is the value of a degree for the degree holder left unstated, but the value to the founding denomination is left unstated as well. This same question could be asked of women seeking higher education or the institutions educating them. It would seem that the answers pertaining to value not only lay outside the text, but outside the cloistered college walls as well.

As Thelin wends his way towards the latter half of the 20th century, he continues his pattern of mapping out the education industry’s trajectory juxtaposed against an unstated opposition. We do not know what other forces are at play in the culture at large or what truly motivated the players chronicled. We simply have a chronicling of various schools, their evolution through time, their shifts in structure, and their individual spaces in the higher education picture. It is true the author makes no claim that the book is all encompassing, or that it stands as the definitive word on the subject. The book does however make the explicit claim that it intends to challenge traditionally held notions of history, though it does not state what those notions are, and forwards the hope that the reader will be inspired to investigate further. In this last case the book is a success. In A History of American Higher Education, one will find plenty of Harvard, Yale, and even Transylvania, but not quite enough America.

Finals Week

I remember my first finals week as a freshman. I looked at everyone around me and thought, “wow. It’s just like in the movies.”

People have a bit more purpose and a lot less patience. Kids who last week were care free, lounging or partying away the evenings, sleeping through late mornings, now carry around note cards and large stacks of books with no pictures.

Last week it was Facebook, now its all Word and PowerPoint. As I walk past the kids this week I peek over their shoulders and see screens with graphs, charts, and footnotes. No one cares that I’m there, they are focused on other things.

I don’t have any tests, just papers and presentations. 40 pages total from last Wednesday till this one upcoming. It’s a test of my ability to write. Not this sort of writing, the sort where I just make things up, but the kind where you have to cite people smarter than yourself, get rid of pretty words and add an official tone. I don’t have an official tone, I have a baritone, and really bad jokes, which come from writing too much. Writing too much also fosters run on sentences.

Which is why I continue to take pictures.

I get asked all the time, mostly by my mother, if I actually study or if I just take pictures. I do both. My degree will be in higher education, I’m studying college.

I read, I write, I listen and talk in class, but I also look around myself. My subject is all around me. Its buildings, students, chairs, and bicycles. Its all college.

In this class, the one I present on this blog, I’m the professor. I’m qualified by default. The syllabus is known only by me and I can change the due dates as I please. I could determine what photos are trad or preppy and break down which is which. You could all argue with me, but I can delete your comments. You can stop following but I will still write.

No matter what i get an A. My little sister will email and correct my spelling. I forgot to capitalize an I. I get an A.

But out there, I’m just the old guy in class. I don’t write the syllabus or call the shots, but I do have to ask the kids how to get my computer to send to the printer in the lab. It all evens out. It will only be a week. We will all relax in a week.

I will make it another week. Must…. make… it… one more… week.