“The school breeds a deep Calvinistic respect for hard work and intellectual tradition, but there’s also a deep streak of rebelliousness, which has been part of Yale since the early 18th century,” said Mr. Weil, the Norton editor. “You always find this balance of rebellion and tradition. Somehow the vapors of the school seem to be perpetuated over a long time.”
In those vapors one can see the outline of the Yale Man as he has been since the beginning of the last century: a fellow of great ambition who makes his own rules, gets all his work done without breaking a sweat and does so in time to catch the Animal Collective show at Bar Pizza.
Adriane Quinlan, who graduated in 2007 and has since spent time in China and worked various writing gigs in New York, said she always valued and looked up to more than anyone else her “super-quirky and crazy” classmates who “dressed bizarre, had eclectic tastes and [were] only friends with one other really weird person.” Ms. Quinlan said she and her classmates were taught that intelligence was what happened when you spent time with those people hanging out, not something you could get by going to class.
“We were basically taught—and I think this is true and a helpful lesson—that being scholarly and knowledgeable has nothing to do with intelligence,” Ms. Quinlan said. “However hard you tried, it was more useful to be in the cafeteria having conversations with interesting people. We don’t see careers as institutions and building blocks—we just think if we are smart enough, we’ll eventually be found.”
Most Yale grads Ms. Quinlan knows who entered the job market during the recession have put off starting a career, she said. “They have the attitude that this will provide them with material, or life experience. Every job they have out of the recession is a future story to tell someone else.” In Ms. Quinlan’s view, the “destabilization of every major company and the collapse of the economy hurt Yalies less perhaps because we were taught not to trust or care about those things.”
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about Yaliens is that they really love Yale. They loved being there and although they don’t brag about having gone there the way Brown grads do, they are not sheepish about it the way Harvard grads always are. Despite being self-consciously idiosyncratic, Yaliens feel a loyalty toward their school more sincere than anyone else in the Ivy League, and identify with one another deeply even as they seek to project an aura of independence.
“They’re very solid citizens,” said radio host and Spy co-founder Kurt Andersen, a ’76 Harvard graduate and a friend to about a dozen Yaliens. “It seems like the extravagant fits of adolescent alienation that has various flavors and that can come out in college kids didn’t come out with them as undergraduates and hasn’t come out as adults.”
“It’s my sense that at other schools—like Harvard, N.Y.U., Stanford, M.I.T.—you’re very much focused on how you’re gonna use it to get to the next place,” said Nathaniel Rich, an outgoing Paris Review editor who graduated from Yale in 2002. “I love New Haven, but…it forces people’s energies inside instead of outside.”
“There’s something very parochial about [Yale people’s] interest in Yale and Yale institutions, which you find everywhere, I guess,” said Christopher Glazek, a 25-year-old New Yorker fact checker who graduated from Yale in 2007, “but at Harvard, it seems outwardly directed. The Lampoon is a big deal because it has a stranglehold on a really existing professional world. You couldn’t say that about any Yale institution.”
That doesn’t stop Yaliens from imbuing those institutions with a lot of import. Certain off-campus houses that get passed down from one group of kids to another are all known only by their street numbers. As one current student said, “67 Edgewood can’t just be a house where people live: It has to be ‘67,’ this magical concept.” (The other big ones at the moment are 115, 113, 37-39 and 28.)
“Yale people in New York often have no concept that there are any other standards by which one could be judged than the ones they developed as undergraduates,” said Mr. Glazek. “They don’t embarrass easily. They don’t seek external validation as energetically.”
At the root of this, he went on, is the peculiar way in which Yaliens who have graduated and taken up in New York relate to the world they live in. “It’s like the world is a figment of your imagination,” he said. “Like the world happens to you, rather than you are something in the world. It’s like Berkeleyan idealism.”
Naturally, this tendency to look inward manifests itself in different ways in the eyes of outsiders.
“They’re all exceptionally nice—Harvard people are not usually that nice,” said Ira Stoll, the Harvard ’94 grad who hired many Yale students as interns when he was editor of The New York Sun. “I have one Yale friend who’s always bringing homemade cookies here to my house. Another one went out of his way to buy a lot of copies of my Samuel Adams book. If a Harvard person did that, you’d think it was because they wanted something from you. But, the Yale people—it’s like, they’re a little earnest.”
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