All about the Hamiltons

The “That Kid” has a place in campus culture…and history

By Alison Howard

To be “That Kid” is pretty much the worst fate that could befall a University of Chicago student. Like many of the other great and terrible fates, it is also rather common—you can probably name five That Kids this second if asked. What I plan to offer is not a critique of this widespread phenomenon—goodness knows we get enough of that here—but rather a defense of his existence, in whichever Hum section you may find him.

I say this with the full certainty that I am not myself a That Kid. The rule of thumb, passed down through the ages, from hungry upperclassmen to naïve first-years with a meal point to spare, is that, if you cannot identify the That Kid in your class, then you yourself are the That Kid. I have always, except for one Visual Language class taken last autumn which constituted my one, obligatory run at being the That Kid (sorry, classmates of ARTV10200!), been able to point him or her out from among my classmates. So the following vindication is an unbiased assessment of the situation running rampant on our campus.

To reiterate, every class has a That Kid. He may maintain steady eye contact or blink constantly, may wear a suit or T-shirts, may constantly reference David Foster Wallace or Montaigne (or both), may be always right or always wrong, and may be beloved or reviled by the class at large. She transcends rational characterization that tries to identify her by taste and style, and is instead characterized by her tendency to never stop talking. That Kid always has something to say.

I have to admit, part of my defense of the That Kid arises from the fact that I’m a little bit in awe of people who have opinions on every subject. As an opinion columnist who has written three separate Maroon editorials about procrastination (Hello, future employer! That is a lovely shirt you’re wearing), often enough I find myself at a loss for words. This contributes to my tendency to speak a full sentence about 0.6 times per hour of class. But the That Kid, that lucky soul, speaks a full, carefully constructed paragraph you might love to have in the body of an academic paper, about 4.7 times per hour of class. Yes, I have counted. Of course I’m not making these statistics up.

But the good part about having a know-it-all in your class is that he or she often sparks dialogue. How often will the That Kid answer on Bueller’s behalf as the economics professor desperately calls on the class to wake up and answer his absurdly easy question already? How often does the That Kid break an awkward silence in discussion with an even more awkward observation about the text? How often will the That Kid say something so completely off-base that you yourself will be rallied to speak? The That Kid might annoy the heck out of you, but he or she certainly serves an important role in the day-to-day functioning of a U of C classroom.

But that’s not all. Because as much as we must dislike a That Kid, we cannot lose sight of the fact that some of them, a very select few, to be sure, are actually justified in their unabashed pursuit of always being right. To this extent, look no further than former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the ultimate That Kid, and a favorite Founding Father of many.

As he is one of my own favorite Founding Fathers, I can see how other Hamilton fans might be offended by how I have classified him as a That Kid—it being such a dirty term and all. But I think it’s important to note that Hamilton was so annoying in real life that he, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, Broadway star and budding hip-hop artist inspired by Alexander Hamilton, “caught beef with every other founding father…on the strength of his writing alone.” Hamilton was known to argue and was a huge economics nerd. He also escaped poverty after a difficult childhood in the Caribbean and, you know, single-handedly developed the American financial system. Years after his death, a million female history nerds would marry him in a second. Instead, Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr (who, by all accounts, appears to have been a That Kid as well), and did not live to experience the great love many now have for him.

Let this be a lesson. While maybe you feel like shooting the That Kid of your class, be grateful that he’s there. He might annoy you now, but even that’s for good purpose. Plus, he might even do something cool one day.

Alison Howard is a third-year in the College majoring in English.