In beginning to write about presidential schools, I got sidetracked right out of the gate. Colonial America can do that to me. Like space, it’s a place that seems elegant and exciting but is in reality plagued with horribly mundane and mundanely horrible experiences. In an effort not to draw the ire of those colonially-focused scholars who may be compulsively Googling me (I swear it’s not an entirely irrational fear) I will focus specifically on oldest of the Colonial Colleges: Harvard, and the College of William & Mary, and not delve into any topics which require actual study. When looking at the alma maters of the first handful of presidents to receive them, I began to wonder why William & Mary felt the need to proclaim itself on its website, “one of America’s oldest and best colleges” and Harvard kept so smugly silent about the same. Harvard and William & Mary are the oldest of the old (like 1600s old) and everyone has heard of Harvard but it took me a moment to realize W&M was still in the business. (Haters, cut some slack! I’m from the prairie.)
Don’t get me wrong, W&M has a well-respected program among public colleges, but it simply can’t match the notoriety of its predecessor. W&M’s troubles seem to have begun when plans for its pre-Harvard opening were derailed by an “Indian uprising.” And yeah, William & Mary’s program is a lot smaller and after far different things than Harvard’s. W&M is heavily skewed towards undergraduate education while Harvard’s scale tips the other direction. Harvard has about 21,000 students while W&M is a bit shy of 8,000. W&M website is actually kind of cool, despite having the world’s most annoying website blurb writer, who is visit-worthy awful (“some call it history, we call it campus”). William & Mary also has the oldest continually-used academic building in the United States! It was completed in 1699 though it did burn down several times and was rebuilt within the original walls, so it’s not really as cool as it sounds. It’s not like they have a castle or anything. Oh, but George Washington went there to get his surveyor’s license (back when surveying was the hot thing). Oh yeah…Thomas Jefferson, too, but he went to legit college as he didn’t have all that AmRev street cred to help him become president. They educated like 5 presidents (or six if you count future president Jon Stewart).
But I mean…Harvard. Let’s have us a little scrolling party:
I know your finger is tired, both of them have had a lot of time to build up ye olde alumni pile. Harvard’s website is extraordinarily classy though. It’s all black and red and spare like some drafty modern loft. It’s almost annoying how much it believes in its own notoriety. I guess they’ve earned it, but W&M has earned it too. Take note W&M website writer: We need some discretion up in here. Your bragging belies your age and station.