Naturally, I remember the night I met my husband. We were walking along the seawall on a lovely evening in San Diego, having met over dinner at a nearby hotel, and were exchanging all the usual get-acquainted questions. Eventually, he asked where I went to college.
“Back east,” I said.
“Where?” he persisted.
“In New Jersey.”
“Oh, come on,” he said kindly. “It can’t be any worse than where I went to school.”
He was right on that score. Before he went to medical school, my husband attended Cal State Los Angeles, which is a fine state college but not in the same echelon as—well—Princeton. Which is where I went, and didn’t want to admit to him. Not in the first hour of our acquaintance, at least.
A long time has passed since that meeting, but apparently nothing has changed—young women still hesitate before admitting to potential suitors that they went to an Ivy League college. Nikki Muller, who graduated with Princeton’s Class of ’05, just posted a YouTube video on this very subject that’s gone viral, with over 100,000 hits so far.
The video opens with a first date scenario at a picnic table in a park: a pretty young woman is listening to a pretentious young man, who’s telling her that his Wharton degree will equip him to be a “leader of tomorrow”. At first, she doesn’t want to say where she went to school, murmuring that it was in New Jersey. But after a few moments she can’t take it any more, and lunges across the picnic table to scream in his face, “I went to Princeton, bitch!”
The rap that follows is clever and very funny. (I don’t expect to hear Proust or Baudelaire mentioned in a similar medium again, ever.) Muller makes some excellent points about the dating challenges that intelligent women often face, and about the precarious nature of an acting career even with a Princeton degree. The young man from Wharton beats a hasty retreat. Clearly my husband was made of sterner stuff, because he stayed around in spite of my Princeton diploma and has been known to refer to me as his “trophy wife”. He even marched stoically beside me in the parade at my 25th reunion, wearing a vest made from the Class of ’74’s orange-and-black blazer fabric and a straw cowboy hat.
All this inspires me to raise a few questions. Is it just Princeton, or do all Ivy League graduates feel reluctant to acknowledge their rarefied educational pedigree to new acquaintances? There seems to be an aura about the name of “Princeton” that’s a bit precious or perhaps effete, even compared to Harvard or Yale. Does the distant echo of F. Scott Fitzgerald and This Side of Paradise still resonate, or is there something more?
Theatergoers who enjoyed Avenue Q may recall that a main puppet character was named “Princeton”, and sang a wonderful song called, “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” Other musical theater fans will remember the handsome but doomed Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific, who fell in love with the lovely native girl Liat. The interracial romance is a key part of the plot, but when the writers wanted the perfect detail to evoke the social class disparity between the lovers, they made him an alumnus of—wait for it—Princeton.
There’s clearly a quality about Princeton University that makes it a top choice when you want to convey genteel elitism. Maybe it’s because Princeton has the southernmost air about it of all the Ivy League schools (though observant readers have reminded me that Penn is further south geographically). Maybe it’s the gentlemanly heritage of Woodrow Wilson, or the classic cinematic legacy of James Stewart. There’s a harder, edgier feeling about Harvard, associated with Facebook and the Kennedys, and about Yale, alma mater of George W. Bush and the secret society Skull and Bones.
Here’s another question. Do Princeton men share the reticence of Princeton women about trotting out their Tiger credentials? Or do women in general feel more need than men to appear modest about their educational attainment? There have been times when I’ve gone to the pet food store or the dry cleaners after work, still wearing scrubs, and have been asked politely by shoppers or clerks if I am a nurse. Most of the time, I simply smile and say yes. I think it might seem obnoxious, or make the other person feel awkward, if I were to say, “No, actually, I’m a doctor.” I wonder how a male physician might respond in a comparable situation.
I still can’t quite imagine myself saying “I went to Princeton, bitch!” to anyone. But I’m willing to bet that after seeing Nikki Muller’s video, fewer Princeton women will find themselves downplaying that Ivy League diploma. My own daughter is about to graduate from Princeton in two weeks. When the day comes that Ariel meets her future husband, I doubt that he’ll spend very long wondering where in New Jersey she went to school.
I got my PhD from a top tier non ivy and used this to filter out all the guys that I did not want to marry (though I got a lot of “talking to” about how I shouldn’t be so blatant about it-ignored them!). Now post-docing at another fancy top school–where everyone in the neighbourhood has an MD/PhD so THANKFULLY it’s not obnoxious to say that you are working at “fancy hospital system” and people do not assume that women are techs or nurses. This assumption was definitely asymetrically applied in my old neighbourhood though, my husband was never told to hide his ivy credentials when he was dating.
Karen…I do believe that Penn is a bit further south than is Tigertown, but your points are all right on.
Yes, men hide it too. “I went to college in New Jersey” has bee a way too standard reply from me; my feeling being that Princeton is just too rich a name to put out onto the table of either a first date or a dinner party. And I do think it’s because Princeont (though yes, Neal, north of Penn) was the Ivy of the Southern aristocracy, endowed not only with class but racial privilege. Ironically, from the 1920s on, Princeton also had the reputation of being the “softest” of the Ivies in terms of masculinity and of a propensity for homosexuality among its students (though this turned to Yale by the 80s when I was at Princeton,) so there’s a sense that Princeton, with all it’s English BA’s, is also a place of somewhat louche decadence; the Ivy League’s opium den, if you will. We’re smarter than you, and we can have a decadent time because well, we’ll still come out with a good degree because we’re well, smarter than you. Particularly if we were in Terrace. Food = Love, y’all!
From the Boston Globe, May 28, Here’s how Harvard grads avoid dropping the H-bomb, They have the same problem and claim they have it worse the Tigers
I did the “New Jersey” thing or just didn’t mention where I went to college when I was younger, but now I try to just treat it as a matter-of-fact thing that I neither avoid mentioning nor go out of my way to bring up. I think getting a degree from Princeton or one of the other Ivy League schools is an accomplishment. (More importantly, it was a great experience.) In the larger scale of a lifetime, though, it’s not that big a deal. What we do after college is what really matters and speaks to who we are.
Most people don’t go to an Ivy leugae college and most bosses that you’ll have haven’t gone to an Ivy leugae either, so most people don’t really care where you go to college, just that you went to a legitimate college and graduated with the degree that they’re looking for.Ivy leugae colleges such as Harvard have a lot of prestige, as well as science labs, research, networking opportunities, some of the best professors are at Harvard, that’s why many people go there. Regardless of where you go to college, I believe you can be a good dr even if you go to a state college. Lots of drs haven’t been to the Ivy leugaes.Not everyone can afford them and medical school is very rigorous, and many of them are very picky about whom they pick.References :