The Girl and the Game and Other College Stories/What the Old Graduate Learned
WHAT THE OLD GRADUATE
WHAT THE OLD GRADUATE LEARNED
Once upon a time a certain old graduate found himself in the midst of a beautiful college campus. On all sides he beheld old beloved scenes and well-remembered landmarks; but also he discovered new haunts, new places, unfamiliar and somehow unwelcome to him. And about him, as he stood there gazing, came and went many of the same recognizable types of lovable undergraduate humanity; and yet here in the crowd strolled one sort and over there across the way stood another sort that seemed strange and unexpected. For, several generations of students had come (as wondering Freshmen) and gone (as grieving graduates) since he was a part of what he now saw going on without him—agoing on quite well without him.
Now, old graduates are notoriously inclined to resent change in the looks or character of their Alma Mater, One reason is that it somehow reminds them that they, too, are changing and growing old—though that is not what they generally say about it—but this old graduate considered himself quite open minded. "There can not be growth," said he to himself sententiously, "without change. I will not condemn; I shall inquire." He prided himself on his open mind, this old graduate.
"Little boy, come here," he called out, "little boy of tender years with the pretty hat and nice clothes, come hither and tell me about yourself."
"I am not a little boy," the other returned, "I'm a big man."
"And I'm not so young as you seem to think. I'm an upper-classman."
"In fact, I'm a very prominent undergraduate—every one knows who I am."
"I beg your pardon. You seem to me so—that is, I beg your pardon; I'm only an old graduate, very green, very much behind the times. Tell me, what are you—let's see, a Junior Orator, or——"
"Heavens! no," the undergraduate replied pityingly.
"Still higher, eh? One of the Lynde Debaters?"
"Of course not."
"Oh, I have it, you won the Stinnecke Scholarship."
He laughed at the old graduate's greenness, "What do you take me for; a poler?"
"Then—oh, to be sure, you're on one of the teams. Now, judging by appearances I should not have thought you an athlete, but——"
"No," sighed the undergraduate; "never mind looking at my shape; I don't happen to be an athlete."
"I have it," said the other. "You're one of the all-around representative men?"
The upper-classman looked modest, yet did not say no.
"That's fine," said the old graduate enthusiastically, "much better than being a mere specialist, isn't it? Well up in your class, I presume, though not a poler; an original thinker along certain lines, an editor of something or other, well known and well liked by ever so many different sorts of fellows—sing on the glee club too, very likely—a steady rooter at all the games and a good all-round Hall man—one of the men who count."
"Not exactly; you don't seem to understand. I'm no poler. For Heaven's sake do not mistake me for a poler—anything but that!"
"I'm sure I didn't intend to," said the old graduate humbly. "I dislike that sort myself—almost as much as I despise the lethargic loafer with lack-lustre eyes. Now, a poler, I take it—at least this is the way we used to define it, is one who studies for the sake of marks and not for what he gets out of the course; who has no class spirit, who wants to put himself ahead of every one else and hates you every time you manage to do pretty decently——"
"Huh! I don't believe I bother 'em much." The undergraduate stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Oh, come now, you're too modest. That's the trouble with Princeton men, they're too much afraid they'll be thought stuck on themselves. They're too much afraid of ridicule."
"No! that isn't what I mean." He looked pityingly at the green graduate; "I don't give a damn."
"Oh, I see," said the other, missing the point entirely, "now I know what kind of a prominent man you are. I beg your pardon for misjudging you. Allow me to shake your hand. I admire your sort most of all, the independent sort who 'don't give a damn'—who try to live up to their own ideals, and not down to those of the sheep-like multitude, the sort every one respects and a good many fear, the sort whom fellows go to when in trouble, the sort who don't parade their principles but try to follow them, the sort who have a sense of humor and get a lot of fun out of life, and yet see fit, for instance, to go to Murray Hall and—what's the matter, have I hurt you?"
The undergraduate for some reason was shuddering. "For Heaven's sake," he hissed, "don't mistake me for a Gospel Shark! Oo-ooh!—what would the fellows think!"
"Why, what's the trouble, what have I done? No insult was intended, I assure you, my dear young friend. You must pardon me, I know no better, I'm very green," said the meek old graduate. "But tell me, do not respectable people go there, good fellows even, when religiously inclined?"
"Never went inside the place to see— Booh! What made you think——"
"Calm yourself, sir, do not take it so hard. If it is comforting to you to know it, I will tell you, candidly, my boy, that even if I had meant the sanctimonious sort, who dissipate in religion so immoderately that they seem offensive to you, almost as offensive as you seem to them when you abuse conviviality—even if I had meant that earnest sort, you need not worry; nobody would ever make the mistake of thinking you too much in earnest about anything—religion least of all. To be still more candid, you do not look as though you had ginger enough in you for anything very positive. What sort of a prominent man are you any way?" The old graduate thought himself sarcastic, but he was very green.
"Well," said the younger man (in an impressive, I'll-show-you-by-gad tone), "I belong to one of the clubs, one of the big, fine exclusive clubs, which everybody would like to belong to, and but few can!"
"I congratulate you," interrupted the old graduate, for he wanted the other to understand that there was no hard feeling; "I congratulate you heartily and sincerely. While there are some disadvantages, it's much pleasanter to belong to one of the big clubs (though they aren't half so impressive as an under-classman fancies from a distance, are they?). Much better not only on account of the privileges of a club house and all that, but because it speaks well for a fellow. It shows he is somebody. It shows he has done something to deserve this honor. By the way, what did you do?"
"Do? I didn't do much of anything. But—er—ah, well I'm considered a mighty nice fellow—you know you said we were too modest."
"Of course you must have been 'a mighty nice fellow,' to receive this honor. I take that for granted. That ought to be a sine qua non. But surely they can't elect all the mighty nice fellows. There aren't enough clubs for that. How did you gain the honor? Why did they single you from among a dozen other just as mighty nice fellows who didn't get in and are left out as much as are the many who were not mighty nice or eligible at all, in fact?"
"Well," said the young man looking modest, "I was considered very desirable. In fact," he said breathing out a lungful of cigarette smoke, "that wasn't the only club that wanted me."
The old graduate looked puzzled. "Oh, I know," he said suddenly, "I had forgotten; when your brother was in college he told me about the tear the kid at prep, school was making in one of the literary societies. That's it, you became a debater—good! we need that sorely. Harvard and Yale have won——"
"No, no, of course not. I quit shooting off my mouth long ago."
"Ah, so you took to writing instead?"
"No! Mostly polers that do the writing."
"I see," said the old graduate, "then how did you earn the honor of club election? I perceive that I have much to learn."
"Well, naturally, the first thing I did was to identify myself with the right crowd early in my college course."
"The right crowd? You were from a large prep, school; your friends naturally would be your old classmates."
"At the very first, yes, but I had sense enough to drop them after a while, except a few who, like me, were the right sort."
"Oh, you mean some of your earlier friends were not so congenial as you formerly thought. That often happens along about Sophomore year. 'Birds of a feather'—and so forth. The new gang was more congenial, you mean."
"Um—yes, that is, some of them; others weren't my sort, but that was the crowd, you see."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, it's this way, unless you are a prominent athlete or something of that sort, the crowd you get in with has everything to do with your success and——"
"Success! well, never mind, go on."
"Yes, otherwise you probably won't make any of the clubs. The men in the clubs can't know many of the under-classmen personally—the classes are too large, so they elect in whole bunches at once. I thought that every one knew that. The point is to get in with the right bunch, don't you see? That's the first thing. I picked out the right bunch."
"Well, I er——"
"Oh, no, but I got in with the gang—most prominent men in the class they were—and I kept my eyes open and worked things pretty well, and soon I became a rather conspicuous figure in the crowd. Well, meanwhile the class had appointed me——"
"Lord, no! how green you are—one of the Sophomore Reception Committee. Then next I had my name put up for——"
"For an office in Whig Hall?"
"'Course not. See here, old graduate, you may as well understand first as last that I do not belong to——"
"Oh, you're a Clio man."
"No! (That's the one up toward the chapel, isn't it?) I'm no Hall fiend! I wouldn't be seen going into one of those haunts of polers."
"What!" exclaimed the old graduate, "O ye shades of mighty Madison and world-renowned Whigs! O spirit of powerful Patterson and clans of Clio! hear not, I pray, what I have heard him say." The old graduate seemed very absurd. "Why not, my noble fellow Princetonian, why shouldn't you care to be seen under the shadow of those glorious columns (to pay for which we all went broke) and mingling midst those mighty memories! why not?"
"Well, you see, it's this way, those who use the Halls, as a rule haven't any other place to loaf and play pool in. Therefore if I were seen——"
"That's enough," cried the old graduate displaying great emotion, "never mind; we won't talk any more about Halls. Ah, me! I always thought I was a great fool in college not to appreciate my Hall opportunities—I've been made to regret it since—but, at least, I had some respect, some reverence—but never mind," gulping; "go on, my son, with the story of your success; you became a well-known man about campus, were seen frequently in the grill-room, you boot-licked well-known men—then what? What else did you do to be preferred to those who weak-mindedly did a little of what their papas sent them here for, or else, at any rate, sweated earnestly in man-fashion over something or other? Go on, please, make it short."
"Well, as my brother had been a member of this club——"
"Yes, I remember your brother," interrupted the rude old graduate, talking rapidly, "a good fellow; so, as you had a brother and these other qualifications you were elected a member of the club, and now you are the real thing, aren't you? And you feel very much pleased with yourself, don't you? and you think you have just as much right to feel pleased with yourself as those of your club-mates who were elected because they were something in addition to being mighty nice fellows and——"
"But I tell you the club is going to run me for the office of——"
But the old graduate, again interrupting, went on satirically: "And it's great to strut around with your arm on the collar of the captain's sweater—the sweater with the 'Varsity P on it, and bask in the sunshine of importance, and look down on your former roommate who was left out—and so you consider yourself a representative man, do you?"
"Oh, of course, you say that," broke out the undergraduate smiling satirically, "because things were not the same 'when you were in college'—go on, we're used to it—the university is going to hell, of course, because I don't wear a flannel shirt and dirty corduroys. Go on, old grad."
At that the old graduate laughed with much amusement: "So you think I have been worrying about the college, do you? You really think that you, little man, are of sufficient consequence to cause anxiety for the university? Princeton certainly is changed in many ways—many things are much better than when I was in college; we did not have that magnificent library, nor such athletic facilities, nor the honor system, nor many advantages that you have. Yes, many things are much better than when I was in college, but you do not happen to be one of them. It really did not occur to me to think of you as being big enough to hurt anybody very much but yourself. Perhaps I underestimate you. Yet I have a suspicion that the college, both in and out of the clubs, has you pretty well sized up; I have a notion that among those outside of the clubs to whom this amusing little story of your 'success' is quite well known, there are plenty of real men who would scorn your so-called success—at such a price. I have an idea that your own club-mates would resent your claiming to be a representative club-man as much as non-club-men would object to your calling yourself a representative Princetonian. I presume that you do not appreciate this, because you are surrounded on one side by your own crowd who tolerate you because they have to, and on the other side by those who boot-lick you because they want to get in your crowd—and so you see no other kind of Princeton men, not being keen-sighted enough to see through these. No, I hardly believe you'll do much permanent harm. It ought to require something more robust than you to kill Princeton spirit. For, after all, you are, I venture to say, merely a type—not a very numerous one at that—of one phase of modern Princeton life brought about by the transition from college to university.
"Now run along, little boy," the old graduate concluded, "you can strut for a while longer. The social system hasn't yet digested you—maybe it will refuse to do so; make the most of your opportunities while they last. Unless everything is changed much more than you have made me think, unless the venerable traditions have been forgotten overnight, unless the old spirit has evaporated in a single day, unless Princeton is no longer Princeton, you are doomed to an unpleasant and early end. So run along, grab the coat-tails of importance, strut your little strut while you may. Run along, please. This is merely what I believe the undergraduate body, club-men and non-clubmen alike, think of you in their hearts. Maybe I am wrong, but run along—quickly, please—before I tell you what we think of you."
That, however, might not have been printable.