Well, another year has slipped away, and I am today officially one year older. This is, numerologically speaking, an interesting birthday. My age is now a perfect square of a perfect square. This is not the first time I have reached such a milestone. The first such occasion was when I turned 1, for 1 is of course 1 squared and squared again. Although I am blessed with an excellent memory, especially of things that happened to me a long time ago, I confess that I have no recollection at all of my first birthday. I was living then with my parents and my big sister, Barbara, in Sunnyside, a neighborhood in the Borough of Queens just across the East River from Manhattan. It would be another year and a half before I was enrolled in the Sunnyside Progressive School, a red diaper operation of which I do in fact have memories, detailed in the first chapter of my Autobiography.
My next encounter with this numerological milestone was in 1949, when I turned sixteen [2 squared and squared again]. I recall that moment quite well, for I was waiting anxiously to see whether I would be admitted to Swarthmore College, where Barbara was already doing brilliantly as a Sophomore. In those days, only 5% of each age cohort earned a Bachelor's degree, and getting into college was not very difficult. I had applied to Swarthmore and Harvard, with Queens College my "backup school," but I did not want to go to Harvard because they required students to wear a tie and jacket to every meal, even breakfast, and I did not even own a tie and jacket . Besides, they had no girls [I had somehow overlooked the presence of Radcliffe.] But I made the mistake of telling the Swarthmore Admissions Office that I was in full-scale psychotherapy, which was a real deal-breaker from their point of view. However, they were not willing to consign me to Queens, so they told me that if Harvard turned me down, they would admit me. But Harvard did not turn me down, so off I went the following September to Cambridge, Mass. [This was no great accomplishment on my part, by the way. My year, roughly two thousand young men applied to Harvard, sixteen hundred or so were admitted, and twelve hundred and fifty showed up to form the class of '54. It was much easier to get into Harvard than it is now to be admitted to UMass.]
And with that, a lifetime passed in a numerologically unremarkable fashion, until today. My age is once again a perfect square of a perfect square -- eighty-one. I think I had better enjoy this moment while I can, because despite being in good health, I think I am unlikely to reach the next way station -- 256 -- not to speak of the one after that -- 625.
I second Kevin's motion!
I realize that prime numbers may not appear as sexy as "a perfect square of a perfect square," but their virtue lies not only in their fascination, but also in the fact you still have some to look forward to. Having turned 81, you have already zipped through 22 prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, and 79), perhaps not even knowing it. And yet, you still have several more to realize: 83, 89, 97, and 101 - just when you thought that the numerology gods had abandoned you! According to Wikipedia, there is and has been enormous interest in prime numbers. And on the other hand, wiki has scant entries on squares of squares so hang on; glory awaits!
You have often mentioned that you entered the Academy as a graduate student just in time for the post-war higher education boom. In light of your interesting anecdote concerning the admissions numbers for undergrads at Harvard, I was wondering if you had any insight as to the admit/rejection numbers for Harvard's philosophy graduate program at that time?
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