I think I have mentioned that my big sister, Barbara, and I are at the very same time selling our apartments and moving to Continuing Care Retirement Communities, she in Southern California and I here in North Carolina. I am the unofficial family archivist, so as she sorts through her accumulated belongings and surfaces papers and letters from long ago, she sends them to me. I receive them with the same eager excitement that a medievalist historian might experience who stumbles on a previously unknown document from the later thirteenth century. Today, a rich trove of documents arrived, and right on top was a copy of a letter sent to me by the Dean of Admissions of Swarthmore College, dated May 16, 1950 [decisions were made later back then.] The essence of the letter is that Swarthmore has decided I would do better at Harvard, and so is turning me down. One sentence in particular caught my attention. I was then in twice a week psychotherapy with a young Manhattan analyst, Bertram Schaffner, who it seems had been at Swarthmore as an undergraduate.
Here is the relevant sentence. “Dr. Schaffner, whom I knew very well as an undergraduate and whose judgment I greatly respect has sent us a letter about you which recommends you and states his belief that you could complete college without danger of any breakdown or serious difficulty.”
And so it was that the following September, I signed up as a first semester freshman for a course on Symbolic Logic with Willard Van Orman Quine. At the time, I was quite disappointed with Swarthmore’s decision, inasmuch as Harvard required its undergraduates to wear a tie and jacket to every meal, including breakfast, but with the wisdom that sixty-seven more years has conferred on me, I can say, reluctantly but honestly, that Dean Hunt was right to send me on to Harvard. I am pleased to report that I lived up to Dr. Schaffner’s belief in me and completed my undergraduate degree without a breakdown.