2013: A Facebook odyssey

The U of C’s self-replicating reputation infects another class

By Steve Saltarelli

I am an old man. Trans-quadrangle treks in the throes of February have left my skin tattered; hellish midterm weeks have doled out a lifetime of painful memories; 9 a.m. philosophy classes have ensured the onset of narcolepsy. And to think, just three years ago I was a young man, skipping mandatory O-Week events like they were court dates and unpacking my life into a 10×10 box of drywall.

It’s difficult now (given my failing memory and all) to recollect the thoughts between high-school graduation parties and my first Hum class, but I imagine it akin to the period in between an entire bottle of vodka and alcohol poisoning—you know you’ve gotten yourself into something, but have yet to figure out just how bad that something is. Seeking to reconnect with that mindset, I stumbled onto the “University of Chicago Class of 2013” Facebook page. What a find.

There, front and center, the angst was clear, highlighted in frantic wall posts lamenting not having studied for the online biology diagnostic exams—but I would soon discover this group was for so much more than worrying. Discussion topics on niche interests, from electronica to New England to libertarianism, served as jumping-off points for potential Facebook link-ups. These are the pre-frosh connections of the best kind, destined to become either enduring friendships or awkward Bartlett encounters for years to come.

Requesting Facebook friendships with soon-to-be classmates, making value judgments on their profiles, or perhaps even flirting with a few co-eds via the ever-casual Facebook message is, of course, par for the course. These being future graduates of the University of Chicago, however, I figured some of the conversations would stray from the traditional “Who’s down to party?!” pre-collegiate fodder.

I found that assumption valid when the conversation on the 1,693-person group’s discussion board took a turn for the unexpected: who would be matriculating with the lowest GPA. While a few used the venue to brag about slacking off during senior year or bombing the occasional AP exam, others took the opportunity to remind me why I look forward to Jim Nondorf taking over the admissions office.

They bragged—in the “lowest GPA” thread, lest you forget—of their sprawling résumés, their various academic awards garnered specifically from their astronomical GPAs, and their extraordinary ability to augment their accomplishments with copious amounts of “chill.” And these posters were not the exception at all—they apparently thought it was the thing to do, because come September they would be U of C students, and U of C students are supposed to talk in such a manner.

What does that say about our school? High-school seniors hear that the U of C is rigorous, see our self-deprecating T-shirts, and feed the beast by arriving in the fall eager to become one of the scholarlier-than-thou blowhards who spend their days playing “that kid” outside of class.

What our classmates tend to forget—increasingly so as they move through the College—is that we aren’t exactly the cream of the crop coming out of high school. As much as the T-shirt would have you believe that “If [you] wanted an A, [you] would have gone to Harvard”—you didn’t get into Harvard. In fact, you probably didn’t get into Princeton, Stanford, or Yale either…or you would’ve gone there.

Even if you did, and were in fact the most superb incoming student in the country, you would have no excuse for posting the following in response to a pre-frosh’s concern about the reading load at U of C:

“Advice: you should go to a different school. no one is impressed by people who brag about not being smart (yes, smart people enjoy reading. if you think you’re the exception, one of your assumptions is wrong.)”

As an old man, I feel it my duty to give some simple words to the youngsters. So here’s my advice: Don’t come in and act like this guy just because you think it’s the cool thing to do here. Go to Harvard.

Steve Saltarelli is fourth-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.