The Ivy Friendship Essay

“Out of all the pearls I can buy in the world, I need my college best friend’s two dollar necklace.”  – Vaishali

College is not the given it once was.  I am fashioning this divining rod for college as my daughter graduates her freshman year in high school.  And I am struggling.  She has the capacity for remarkable grades ( got that from her mother).  But she has a personality (maybe got that from her mother too).  And so where to draw the line, push for grades so that she can follow me (Roar Lions but I am doing a job that I don’t need Columbia for), or let her be, drive her “friend group” where it needs to go, and allow the aptitudes and fates to determine the course?

I know, the reflex answer is somewhere in the middle.  And that was my mandate this year.  Every grade above a 90 (only because she can) and then pretty much “yes” when you ask to do stuff.

My definition of Ivy has always been that it is a mindset first, a lifestyle second, and a fashion third.  One uses one’s own history as data points for raising children, right?  So I dig through mine.  I went to undergrad out in Iowa.  My best friend there was Dan Addington.  He is now a renowned artist with his own gallery.

 

Dan Addington, who has had his own gallery through recessions, Covid, etc. for 23 years. Click on the photo and you will see how a writer and an artist forged a friendship – I can’t draw but damn this boy can write.

 

What do I want for Gramercy (My daughter if you are new here)?  I was on academic probation more often than not in college, I suspect that Dan Addington probably intervened on my behalf (I never asked, he would be gracious anyway).  But we had the life event of a storied and beloved friendship – we toured the country playing music together and woke up in the same bed with a row of very scary dolls staring at us, he covered for me but I couldn’t cover for him when he slid down a palm tree and totaled his hands (I can’t play bass, turns out he can wearing baseball mitts), and we were each other’s Best Man (his speech was probably better, but mine was in a church so I had one hand tied, if you know what I mean).  We went on.  Years passed without speaking, only because I suck out loud at anything that is not immediately in front of my face.  But when crisis hit, we called.  And we knew, we know, that the other would always answer.  Two years ago I am at a restaurant telling a story, and no one believes the story (you wouldn’t either).  I said I could text Dan right there and then with two words, and he would text me back after not hearing from me for a year, with the story exactly as I told it.  And he proved me right.

Is that more important that me learning the definition of statistical significance?  Now, a few beats later, I am inclined to think so.   I was more proud of that text from Dan in front of my family than I was at Columbia.  For sure.

 

 

Which is not to say that I didn’t need an education to forge that friendship.  And it is not to say that I did not need to learn how to think in order to maintain it, even as poorly as I have.  I think that college friendships are as forged in steel as they are because they are prequalified.  In my case, I arrived on campus not knowing anyone but knowing how to win a small crowd with a guitar, and I met someone there who knew how to do it better and pushed me.  But I wouldn’t have gotten better if I didn’t get good.

I think college friendships too are forged by the opportunity.  Nothing is a better adhesive than a common adversary even if that adversary is performing in the moment so that you have an opportunity in the future.   Professors,  all-nighters, distractions (we were on a dry campus but we pulled more late nights than you did).   All opponents to the maximum achievement, but we embraced them rather than the maximum achievement.

The lessons there.  I never needed forgiveness before.  I was the victim growing up, and I got to college without the money to get back home, and I got to college because somebody wrote somebody about what was going on back home.  Everyone looked the other way, until I was on the same field with everyone getting a fresh start, like me.  Dan is/was a curator of the stylish, and he bought a floor-to-ceiling poster of Humphrey Bogart.  Here:

Not Ivy but who cares? That man wore clothes as well as Astaire. Astaire wore better clothes, but Bogart wasn’t a dancer. It’s a draw.

 

We were out in the middle of the middle in Iowa, and without rudely dating myself there weren’t no Amazon Prime, so this poster was an heirloom.  And I tore it playing nerf football.  Dan forgave me.  We were double dating (in Dan’s Nova) when (right the F-word out of Footloose) some redneck took exception to my singing Purple Rain out the window and kicked Dan through the driver’s window.  Dan forgave me.  Actually, I don’t think he ever mentioned it.

What is more important?  That, or the time I spent at desks in a library that were already dated before I sat at them?  I would say… that.

 

 

Of course, things have changed.  God I hope so.  But have the important things changed?  I think our argument here is that they haven’t.  Friendship is friendship regardless, the most valuable coin, the one thing you got.  Most of us here have gone to college, so says Google Analytics and the quality of the comments.   So you know too, why these friendships are the crown jewels.  Because they were born in an age where you were finally equal parts accountable and free.

 

 

The Ivy principles matter here.  The value of thought.  Work ethic.  The idea that we can adorn ourselves in a manner that represents… the idea.    Would my friendship with Dan have become marrow if it weren’t for the leap we were both taking as we held hands on the way down?  Would it have been stem cells if we didn’t push each other to think?  Would it have been core if we didn’t compete at the same time cheerlead?  And could it have happened if we didn’t get ourselves independently in the game in the first place.

Nope.

There is this bizarre fulcrum, bizarre because it has to exist at all, between what is important immediately and what is important ultimately.   It might be the Ivy in me, but I put my college friendships on that point.  The immediacy of academic probation juxtaposed with the endgame of a career I didn’t need a degree for.  The immediacy of raised eyebrows in English Lit when I said I wanted to be a writer with the endgame of… I am the only one making a living at it.  Where do you score points?

I think you score them in that, right now, if I texted Dan, he’d answer me first, ’cause I’m important.  What is more important than being important?

 

 

The value of college is internet woven anyway.  The courses that I drank pots of coffee and wrote my ass off to even qualify for you can take online now for $100.   Degrees don’t matter as much, and I get it.  If it isn’t a level playing field to get the degree, then let’s move past it.  I am against, though, the idea of exploiting a high school student who can perform an HTML magic trick by hiring them now.  Where do they learn to think?  Where do they learn to fail?  Where do they learn to productively suffer and where do they learn to stand alone?

And where do they learn who has their back?

I look at where I am now, this site and the music, and I note this.  The only career guidance I ever got that I listened to came from Dan  Addington, “You can write and you can play, you should do both.”

It matters, what we drape our world in.  It really really matters.  There are flags on battlefields, and there are bars on collars afterwards.  What we wear symbolizes, expresses, what we have done.  It really matters that we dress and decorate and color our world with the same intensity that we create it in the first place.

There is no repp tie to convey that I have a friend from college who would come any time I called.  But there is a repp tie to convey that I put myself in the position to earn that friend.

Wear your clothes like you wear your college friends.  Represent that you earned what you have and that you value the effort of others to do the same.  Say that you are proud of what you did and that you nod toward the luck that was a part of it.  Return to those beginnings.  Reach out to your college friend and remind yourself of the eternity you might have created over beer.

Adorn your public facing self with the values that you hold, and adorn your heart with the people you hold dear.

And Gramercy, after I think  about it, yeah, you have to go to college.

 

17 Comments on "The Ivy Friendship Essay"

  1. That was a lovely post and brings to mind the old chestnut that college (undergraduate) is as much, if not more about learning how to live than learning how to make a living. When I reflect on my college days, they are some of the richest days of my that I will always cherish and they were certainly a large part of my preparation for life.

    • John Burton | June 1, 2022 at 8:10 pm | Reply

      THANK YOU. Was it the same for you? That the college friendship (s) were as valuable as the education?

      • Old Bostonian | June 2, 2022 at 12:26 am | Reply

        From 1961-1965, I attended what was considered to be the best public university in the country. Everything I learned in college could have been learned from reading books, and much of what I learned is now outdated. The college friendships were far more valuable than the education. They continue to grow more valuable.

  2. Absolutely, I was the best man in my best college friend’s wedding. We then only connected periodically throughout the years and then after not communicating for 20 years, reconnected and e talked for an hour and it was just as if we last talked yesterday.

  3. Timely

    This weekend I will have 7 classmates (my alma mater term for those who went through the same hell as you) at my childhood beach home

    I would come for them at the drop of a hat, likely with a ready Amex rather than the fists of 35 years ago.

    I love each of them in ways mere mortals will never comprehend.

  4. Nice to see the beautiful City College (fun fact – the graduation scene in Love Story was shot at the City College because the director wasn’t impressed with Harvard interiors), which I attended in the first decade of our turbulent millennium.

  5. Your writing is as witty as it is moving, as fresh as it is lived-in. Thank you for this affecting and thought-provoking article. You even somehow managed, improbably yet aptly, to bring it round to the subject of clothes.
    I attended college later than my peers, which made for a rather distant social experience. I was already in my mid-20s, had already seen my college-age party/social/binge-anything phase through to a mercifully tidy conclusion and had no interest in revisiting it, and I suddenly found myself attending classes with a bunch of 19-year-olds who just shuffled in from the dorms in their pajamas. There was a social gulf I was never able to bridge well. We were just in different phases of life. I am certainly grateful for the friendships I made in other phases of life, times that might approach or approximate the shared college experience you write of here. This article makes me want to reach out to a couple of them. It’s been a while.

  6. Friendships, dorm keggers, skullduggery, learning to fail, and Ivy decorum . . . all book-ended by fatherhood angst. You deftly packed ’em all in there in a way to resurrect my own crazy memories. Well done. To be sure, there’s nothing like decades-old friendships, college days, and knowing how and when to tough-talk our daughters. Thank you for this.

  7. John,
    You should turn this excellent column into a commencement speech. It would be way more informative to graduates who are told, ad nauseum, that they have their whole lives before them and need to make their mark in the world.

  8. I still remember this bit of wisdom, written on a desk in the Univ. of Illinois Undergrad Library:

    Finals come, and finals go
    Study hard! Get that 5.0!
    But now take a look; Look what you did
    You spent 4 years at the UofI, being a f***ing squid!

    A squid was a term for someone that does nothing but study, and the poem reminds us that there is so much more to college than just grades.

  9. Perfectly said, and it goes even beyond the individual friendships you form, but also the sense of belonging to a community that is not only empowered by curiosity but is also (I hope) both rooted in where it has been and always looking to where it can go. When my better half (a loud and proud Princeton alumna) and I talk about our respective times in college, we both talk of the sense of belonging, the socialization (in both academic and non-academic settings) that gives you the unwritten but absolutely essential skills needed to be able to do anything you want in this world. It’s also the feeling of being part of something larger than yourself, and embracing it as best you can. I’m sure many of us may have felt socially out of place before college (I certainly did, for multiple reasons only clarified later in life), but got a restart in college that I might not have otherwise had and still serves me well…and introduced me to rowing, which remains a lifelong passion.

    And yes, so long as it’s the best fit for her, Gramercy ought to go to college.

  10. “What is important immediately and what is important ultimately.” I am stealing that.

  11. The best reason for Gramercy to go to college is that she’ll regret not having done so if she doesn’t. In the long run, the diploma may be worth more than the education

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