Why Do We Buy Harvard Merchandise?
Last weekend was spent doodling around Boston and the surrounding inner-city areas like a typical tourist. I walked the Freedom Trail, ate clam chowder out of a bread bowl, and yes, set my feet on Harvard’s historic ground.
I get the allure. Brick buildings older than anything in Calgary, paths that cross one another in triangles as squirrels run past, and the knowledge that some of the finest minds – Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, and Miranda Hobbs – all spent time studying at one of the most famous higher learning meccas.
Then there’s everything around Harvard. There’s cafes and bookstores. Places to lunch and read and – let’s be honest - people watch. There are shops selling everything you could think of. They are serving up jumpers, t shirts, coffee mugs, parent and grandparent coffee mugs, pens, pennants, teddy bears, infant onesies, all scrawled with those seven important letters: “H-A-R-V-A-R-D.” Aside from a branded bikini – like my dear friend was given, true story – Saskatchewan Roughriders merchandise may be it’s only true rival in terms of variety of items available.
I understand why we buy: for a tourist we want to savour that memory and be reminded of that time every time we look at it. You may have not studied at Harvard, but you’ve got the t shirt.
For future students and alumni, it’s a badge of honour. It is no small feat getting in. For the class of 2022, 42,749 people applied and 2,024 got it. That’s not even 5% of the applicants that get to study. For those that do get in, you best believe you going to enjoy every minute of that success and carry it with you through your life. Those four years drastically shaped you into the adult you became. That place is home for those years. I believe that coffee mug on your desk twelve years later may help you remind yourself how hard you worked and why you became a *fill in the blank* in the first place.
As with anything that appears golden, there must be a dark side. Of course, I think about what happens to the tourist novelty items long after the shine has worn off. Sure, you pop that jumper over your head and wear it right after you receive it. If it’s a souvenir, it’s a way of thanking that loved one for thinking of you when they were on their trip. Years later I’m sure these items end up at the back of closets or in messy drawers after years of forgetting about them. Then what?
If you’re an alumni, you’ve earned the degree and probably framed it. Why do you also need that thing? Is it sentimental? Proof? Expression of ego? All or none of that? We can’t all be “Gifts” in Love Languages, can we?
There’s more to it. On a recent blog that broke down the Ivy League Admissions Scandal in expert detail. The author also gets into questioning the role that society at large plays. Though we condone scamming the system, we continue to keep some schools – mostly American and the United Kingdom Ivy League – on high pedestals. We know it’s wrong to cheat but if we’re being honest, we understand why someone would want to do – almost? - anything to get in. We help videos of teenagers getting into the school of their dreams go viral, we make our children attend pre-pre-school in hopes of that paving the way to future academic success, and we rank the value of schools against one another all over the world and here in Canada too.
I think that’s why we buy. We want to get a morsel; some of the emotion and pride that comes from being a part of something special for ourselves. In the search for something real, we will take a token. Our need for community and belonging translates into how and what we purchase, watch, click on, and ultimately, what we wear on our bodies.
Turns out, we are walking unpaid billboards and sometimes that includes pimping out schools we’ve never attended. Do you have post-secondary items in your home? Did you or a loved one study there?