Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Late bloomer

HARVARD College accepted me as a freshman but refused to take my dog. At Collegiate School in New York City, the oldest school in the country, started by the Dutch in New Amsterdam in 1628, I held undisputed claim in the senior class academic ranking to position 17 in a class numbering 21 boys. Not promising college material.

It was believed, however, that I possessed other attributes. For example, I had prepared a lengthy report on reorganizing the school. My classmates were vastly amused by the undertaking and the school administrators charitable about the unsolicited recommendations. The only casualty of the affair was Henry Adams, a wonderful English teacher who had made books, among them Thomas Wolfe's novel, ``Look Homeward, Angel,'' come alive for me in a way I had never experienced before. His anguish arose from the many spelling mistakes in the report. Why hadn't I shown it to him before distribution? Each misspelled word he considered a blot on his reputation.

About these ads

In any event, this effort, plus other less bizarre undertakings at school, hinted at leadership skills which seemed to add a glow to a dismal academic record.

Each senior met with Wilson Parkhill, the headmaster of the school, to discuss college preferences. Mr. Parkhill stood about 6 feet tall, but because of his personal warmth, we, his students, never found him intimidating. I told him I wanted very much to go to Harvard and could not imagine myself being happy at any other place. This happened to be true, but how many far more talented boys had said the same thing? Mr. Parkhill indicated that, given my grades, this request would present him with a considerable task, but he would do his best. (Dear reader, these events occurred in the unpressured 1950s, when close working relations existed between school headmasters and deans of admissions.)

Mr. Parkhill performed ably. I was admitted to Harvard as a ``late bloomer.'' (The concept is admirable, recognizing that some youngsters develop slowly. I hope that a few late bloomers still manage to find their way in.)

Every solution brings forth a new problem. What was to become of my dog, Penny, if I left New York City to go to college? Again, I asked Mr. Parkhill to intercede, feeling confident that he would help. Mr. Parkhill owned two dachshunds, and he and I had discussed the irresistible appeal of dogs. He undertook this assignment with more optimism than the first.

But success was to elude us. The Harvard dean of admissions informed him that around the year 1911 a freshman and his parrot had been admitted, and following unpardonable behavior by both, the nature of which was not divulged, both had been expelled. The result: a strict rule against students having pets.

The choice became Penny or Harvard. I chose the latter, but not without anguish. I found a home for her with a store owner in the country. Here she could run to her heart's content. At college, though, I missed her. The first month there, I spent considerable time trying to locate a place in Cambridge for Penny. Eventually, a telephone operator at the college agreed to take her. I sent a telegram to the store owner informing him that I would be coming to reclaim my dog. He wrote me a sensible, understanding letter saying, of course, I could have Penny back, but questioning whether the plan made sense.

In fact, it made no sense whatever. Sanity prevailed, and not a minute too soon. Penny remained with her new master and I buckled down to my studies and immersion into a new stage of life.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.