What about that Ivy League aura?

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As a Yale student, I have always been intrigued by The New York Times' borderline obsessive fascination with the Ivy League.

You don't see the Times chronicling life at Carnegie Mellon, or even other reputable schools such as Boston College, Tufts and New York University, but readers are bombarded with articles on how the world's future leaders are taking advantage of -- or squandering -- the endless opportunities offered at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

The Times' disproportionate coverage of the Ivy League only fuels the misguided belief that an Ivy League education guarantees success later on in life.

As the son of a Yale professor who had grown up around campus all my life, I should have known better. I may have been slightly less impressed by Yale's picturesque, Gothic architecture than my fellow classmates, but at about the time I started befriending the eccentric and ambitious journalists of the Yale Daily News midway through freshman year, I fell into the trap.

I believed myself to be destined for greatness by virtue of my imminent Yale degree.

I swear it wasn't my fault. Seemingly every presidential candidate in recent memory had at some point studied at Yale, and the opportunities and expectations at my school only fostered this sense of pre-determined, foolproof greatness.

So there I was, a local kid from a suburban public high school suddenly feeling -- and dealing with the pressures of being -- destined for something great. And even worse, most of my fellow students, it seemed, had known this secret much longer than I had, and had been preparing for greatness for quite some time.

My first real panic came early on in second semester, when the ambitious Yalie first starts making outlandish summer plans.

Fight malaria in Africa, retrace a famous poet's steps in England, single-handedly bring running water to an entire village in Southeastern Asia.

How was I supposed to compete with that?

I was embarrassingly without exciting summer plans with each passing day only increasing my anxiety.

Thankfully, I soon realized that although I attended a prestigious and somewhat academically rigorous school, I was more or less the same person I had been in public high school.

Maybe it was the fact that a disproportionate amount of noteworthy people I read about in the news had in fact not attended Ivy League schools. Or maybe it was the fact that I was nowhere near as talented or ambitious as some of my colleagues at the school paper.

I was no longer destined to be the next Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And it felt great.

At about the same time, I realized that most Yalies were pretty normal people: They played video games, procrastinated and complained about homework and class. Most were well-spoken, successful in some extracurricular activity, curious about the world around them and interested in learning.

Many had been groomed by their parents to attend Ivy League schools more than they would like to admit and, while intelligent, were by no means light years ahead of students at other less storied institutions.

And while some of my fellow classmates are surely destined for greatness -- as tough as that is to stomach sometimes -- attending Yale by no means guarantees that you will be an influential person later on in life. (This might seem obvious, but it's the sort of sentiment that to a large extent pervades the campus, especially among certain groups of people.)

Most of those who will become successful will do so on their own merit.

I know many Yale alums struggling to break into the job market, while my best friend from high school has already started two businesses and attended a renewable energy conference in South Africa as a senior at Tufts.

Still, I'll admit that even I gave in to the Yale attitude when I learned in mid-January that I would be interning for the Post-Gazette in the summer. At the time, not even Yale's most zealous humanitarian had booked his or her ticket to Botswana. From that moment forward, I asked each and every one of my fellow classmates about their summer plans.

The struggle to hide my self-satisfaction was harder than any test I've taken at Yale.

I guess I haven't yet pulled myself completely out of the Ivy League trap.


Chris Merriman, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a senior majoring in history at Yale University. He can be reached at localnews@post-gazette.com .


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