New Jersey film – Admission opens in US cinemas on March 22nd

March 9, 2013

In a post I wrote in August 2012 about American Ivy League colleges, I wrote admiringly about Admission, a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz.  This novel tells the story of a Princeton University admissions officer who develops an uncommon fascination with an applicant, an event which leads her to change her life in unexpected ways.  It’s a thriller (of sorts) and a romance (of course).  It’s also, in its own way, a love valentine to small Ivy League colleges – Princeton and Dartmouth, which Korelitz attended. (Here are links to an interview with Korelitz in the March/April 2013 issue Dartmouth Alumni Magazine and the February 22, 2013 issue of The Dartmouth.  For those who are wondering, the chapter that takes place at Dartmouth was, sadly, cut from the film.)

In two weeks (22 March), the film version of the book – also called “Admission” – will be released in North America (Australian opening uncertain at this point), starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the top-billed roles, along with Michael Sheen (one of the British actors “du jour”), Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn (who can pass up a film with the elf-like and ever-charming Shawn?).  Paul Weitz (About a Boy) directed, and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) co-scripted.

Loved the book, can’t wait for the  movie to make it down under.

The film was partially shot on the Princeton campus in New Jersey, placing this film one of our “New Jersey film all stars“.  Click here to read a preview in the Daily Princetonian.  And here is an article from NJ.com about the Princeton filming, which took place in early July 2012.

Admission movie poster

A number of other films have been shot on the Princeton campus and surrounds in recent years, including Transformers 2, IQ (about Albert Einstein), Beautiful Mind, Across the Universe and The Happening.

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The world has changed … the military and Dartmouth College

October 1, 2012

How the world has changed.  Or at least the American view of the military.

I am a member of the generation that viewed the military as an alien being.  I came of age during the Vietnam War years (curiously, the Vietnamese call that war “the American War” – perspective makes all the difference).

The September/October issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (DAM) symbolises this change: the issue is headlined “War Stories” and features 54 US military veterans in the issue – from Alan Brown (class of 1970) to Philip Back (class of 2010).  The College would not have done this if it had not perceived that the general attitude towards the military has shifted somehow:  no longer the “enemy”, an alien being, but real people.  What is responsible for this shift?  Although the US (under President George W. Bush) vigorously resisted instituting a draft, it did something else, something which may have acted as a de facto draft:  it started to force members of the National Guard to ship overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan.  People in the reserves who never expected to be “called up” were.  This meant that many tens of thousands of reservists saw combat who never expected to, not in this or any other lifetime.

So something has changed profoundly in American views towards the military, for the better I suspect.  This Dartmouth College publication is just one indication of what has been taking place for some years now.

(And yes, I am an “alumnus” of Dartmouth – I attended, although did not graduate, graduating from Cornell instead.)


Harvard, Yale and the Making of American Presidents

August 16, 2012

Everywhere I look now there seems to be discussion about the nature of elite universities and their role in – using the words of Nicolas Lemann (The New Yorker, May 28, 2012, p. 24) – “controlling access to life membership in the elite”.

Lemann also reminds us of the high degree of alignment between the top universities and national political leadership in the USA:

Now that we know that either Obama or Romney will be President next year, we also know that, from 1989 through at least 2017, every President of the United States will have had a degree from either Harvard or Yale, or in the case of George W. Bush, both  That could be a three-decade accident, or it may be a sign of something lasting – the educational version of the inequality surge, elevating the “one per cent” institutions far above the rest.

This phenomenon has been clear for a while.  Bob Greene (CNN) wrote about it in April 2012 and the Harvard Gazette noted it back in November 2008.  For the record, the following eight Presidents all graduated Harvard, the institution which has produced the most people to hold the nation’s top office:

–          Barack Obama (J.D., 1991)

–          George W. Bush (M.B.A. 1975)

–          John F. Kennedy (S.B. 1940)

–          Franklin D. Roosevelt (A.B. 1903)

–          Theodore Roosevelt (A.B. 1880)

–          Rutherford B. Hayes (LLB. 1845)

–          John Quincy Adams A.B. 1787, A.M. 1790

–          John Adams (A.B. 1755, A.M. 1758)

And Yale clocks in with the following five Presidents:

–          George W. Bush (B.A. 1968)

–          Bill Clinton (Law 1973)

–          George H. W. Bush  (B.A. 1948)

–          Gerald Ford (Law 1941)

–          William H. Taft (B.A. 1878)

And finally, here is the list of other universities which have produced more than one President:

–          William and Mary (3): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler

–          Princeton (2): James Madison, Woodrow Wilson

–          West Point (2): Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower

–          Columbia (2): Barack Obama (undergrad), Franklin D. Roosevelt (post-grad)

I write with some knowledge about elite American universities, having attended two Ivy League colleges – Dartmouth and Cornell – and receiving my Bachelors degree from the latter.  Again, for the record, here is my brief potted history of American colleges:  I applied to eight colleges out of high school – five “Ivies” – Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, Princeton and University of Pennsylvania, and to three others – Union, Middlebury and Rutgers.  I was accepted at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Union and Rutgers and enrolled at Dartmouth because (a) a close friend was there and (b) it was the most prestigious place to accept me.  I left Dartmouth after one year and somewhat later (after more than a few life adventures) applied to and was accepted by Cornell (College of Arts and Sciences), where I graduated with my B.A. (or A.B., as they called it there, in the great Ivy tradition).

The year after I graduated Cornell, I lived in Boston and took an “extension” course at Harvard University in city and regional planning taught by Professor Lawrence Mann.  When I applied for Masters degree programs in city planning, I was accepted by Harvard, UCLA and the University of California at Berkeley (but rejected, I hasten to add, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology).  I consulted Mann about my choice, and he had three words of advice:  “Go to Berkeley.”  So I did and received my Masters degree from there.  But, I can say, I ALMOST went to Harvard for grad school.  To complete the circle, in April of this year, I received my PhD from Macquarie University here in Sydney, having originally started a PhD at Flinders University in Adelaide many years before and yet a prior PhD at Macquarie as well.

Thus I write with some experience about the American college system.  And I can tell you that the nature of American elite colleges is not a new phenomenon:  my own choices (five Ivy League applications) indicate that.  And Dartmouth at the time?  I still hold the “Freshman book” (the Dartmouth precursor of what turned into “Facebook”), with some 800 fresh faces.  At least one third attended elite private prep schools in the northeast.  About fifty percent were first team football players and I think a staggering 10 percent (yes, some 80 students) were captains of their football teams (I was not).

Elite is not new. Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are the inheritors of a tradition of “Harvard men” that extends back to the second American President – yes to John Adams.  Now, that’s history, and in this case elite tertiary education easily trumps racial differences.  Would Obama have become President if he had attended Howard University or Spelman College, both historically “black” institutions?  I suspect not.  Which may lead us to conclude that while racism may be fading (but by no means gone, more on that another time), elite education – as a concept, theme and necessity to enter the “power elite” – lives on stronger than ever.

Postscript:  For this reason, it may not be odd that I have just finished a rather unique and highly engaging novel about American college admissions:  appropriately called Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the book’s main character is an admissions officer at Princeton University (which Korelitz once was) and holds a bachelors degree from Dartmouth (Korelitz again).  I am not certain what form of Ivy League coincidence is taking place, but the previous novel I finished this year was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  All of the major characters of that book attended Brown University.


In memoriam for a former college roommate

June 5, 2012

The mail today brought bad news.  It was even worse because the envelope arrived about two weeks ago and I did not open it until early this morning.

One of my freshman (first year) roommates at Dartmouth College, Tom Ludlow, has passed away.  Class of 1974.  Lymphoma.  I read this news with great sadness.

Living in Australia for the past 32 years, I have not kept in much contact with Tom (or many at Dartmouth, for that matter), but we talked on the phone some years back – about Dartmouth College business.  Tom was courtly, well-mannered, sincere and deeply community-minded.  He was not yet 60 when he died.

Richard Ranger, the Class of ’74 President and long-time newsletter editor, introduced the death of Tom and two other classmates with one of Richard’s insightful, poetic and melodic meditations, part of which I reproduce below as it is worth being read by a wider audience:

Making sense of significant deaths is something we all face, and something a great many of us have had to face.  In the public conversation among alumni of prestige colleges it is uncharacteristic to speak of death.  Instead, our conversation tends to dwell in the indefinite and imagined summer between graduation and achievement, where the wedding guests are handsome and well-dressed, the occasional children announced as if greeting the guests in the Trapp Family ballroom shortly before bed, and where the incremental milestones of learning and profession presented to polite but disceerning applause.  Death is acknowledged, to be sure, formerly in a smaller font size at the end of the Alumni Magazine, and now only online.  But a distance is maintained between how we experience death and how we discuss it in the public conversation.  There are many reasons for this, many of them purposeful and constructive.  But most of us find ourselves at some point adrift within that distance, between the distant shore of the public conversation, and the approaching shore of our mortality, appearing at the edge of the formerly limitless horizons of our imagined summers.

To Richard Ranger, to my (third) surviving freshman room-mate (also named Rick) and to the memory of Tom Ludlow, for whom I now mourn:  may your spirits soar like eagles in the unlimited sky, may your lives be filled with happiness and joy, and may you find peace.


Streep wins Oscar for Iron Lady, credits her Dartmouth experience for understanding the role

March 4, 2012

This post belongs in the “sad but true” category, as it does not reflect all that well on one of my “alma mater” undergraduate universities:  Dartmouth College.

One week ago, Meryl Streep won the Oscar for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for her stand-out performance in The Iron Lady.  For a couple of months now, a number of news sources have been reporting on how Streep connected her performance in that role to her experience as an exchange student (from Vassar College) at Dartmouth College in the (northern) autumn of 1970 – see The Dartmouth newspaper, The Seattle Times, and the “Simply Streep” fan blog posting from 18 May 2000.

As I revealed on this blog in my review of the film Julie and Julia (6 October 2009), I acted with Meryl Streep in a student-written play – called “The Killer Ape” – at Dartmouth in October 1970 during her exchange period.

A 19 May 2000 interview in The Dartmouth newspaper (reporter Mark Bubriski) provides much of what we understand about Streep and Dartmouth College.  She went to study there because of its reputation for good theatre and the students there “seemed pretty cool”.  She took a playwriting class with Errol Hill, a dance class (in which she was the only woman) and a costume design class (and received all “A’s” in her courses).  She reportedly “does not remember” the plays she acted in while at the College, although the interview notes that she did participate in the “less than memorable” Frost playwriting competition one acts – which she does not remember.  Okay, for the record (including Meryl’s, in case she is keen to collect this sort of thing, which I somehow suspect she is not), here is a copy of the program of part of the Frost competition in that October 1970:

And yes, there’s my name on the program with hers.  Click on the image above to enlarge it.

For those who are interested in this sort of thing (and hey, what Dartmouth or Vassar grad is not?), The Dartmouth interview also notes that Streep returned to live in Norwich, Vermont – near Hanover, New Hampshire, where Dartmouth to be with her boyfriend at the time, who was starting at the Dartmouth Medical School.  She acted with the Green Mountain Guild in Vermont and waited on tables.  The following summer, while continuing to act and wait tables, she applied to the Yale University School of Drama. She received a scholarship to attend and enrolled that fall.  The rest, as they say, is history – or rather, very public history.

Neat, huh?  And the connection to The Iron Lady?  Well, Streep has been quoted saying that as one of 60 female exchange students with 6000 men at Dartmouth in the fall of 1970, she felt the isolation which she could later translate to her role as Margaret Thatcher and get inside the head of the character:  “And so a little bit of my emotional work was done for me.”

Actually, it was 120 female exchange students (as I recall) and only 3000 men, but it probably felt worse to her, so I won’t argue.