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Yale–the tour (Nov. 1994)

I am reclining in a shady spot on the Old Campus one afternoon in July, enjoying the serenity that summer brings to the Yale campus, when from behind me I hear the unmistakable tones—sweetly ingratiating, soothingly melodic—of a tour guide.

I recoil in horror. When one is officially on vacation, the only thing worse than real Yalies are prospective ones. Their heartbreaking eagerness, their undignified enthusiasm, their curious stares, make being an angst-ridden scholar so very difficult.

And yet, I am perversely fascinated. Who are these intrepid souls, come to inspect dusty libraries and empty dining halls in the damp heat of summer? I scrutinize the crowd gathering before Phelps Gate. Even from a distance I can see that a fair number of the tour groupies are wearing the same shirt. I am intrigued. Against my better judgment, I walk over to get a better look.

The mystery group turns out to be made up exclusively of teenagers, their bright aqua T-shirts emblazoned in gold with the image of a hawk and the words: “East Coast University Tour—San Elizario High School Dream Team.”

I give an inward groan: another load of pampered preppies sure that it’s Ivy League or bust. As we start off, the tour guide (herself insufferably perky) says, “And how many prospective students do we have here today?” All 15 members of the San Elizario High School Dream Team raise their hands.

The tour guide moves the crowd about like a herd of cattle, reciting the jokes and stories so familiar to those who once lived along the tour guide route. The crowd chuckles appreciatively, nods solemnly, occasionally gasps in astonishment. The Dream Team members dutifully take notes on small yellow pads. One of them holds her notebook about three inches from her nose, scribbling furiously, then hugs it close to her chest—as though afraid someone (perhaps a competing Dream Teammate?) might try to peek at its contents.

At last curiosity gets the best of me, and I seek out the group leader. The Dream Team “coach” is a soft-spoken woman from San Elizario, Texas, which, she tells me, is one of the state’s poorest districts. These 15 students were chosen to participate in a state-sponsored trip to the schools of the Ivy League in the hopes that it would inspire them to apply.

“We want them to see that they can do it, that the people at Princeton or Dartmouth are just like them,” she says with feeling. It is the eventual goal of the program, she continues, that these exceptional students will return home and put some of their learning to work in their impoverished neighborhoods.

I feel properly ashamed of myself. Humbly, I ask her if I can do anything to help her cause. “Spread the word about our program,” she smiles. I say I will, surprised and pleased to find myself taking on the decidedly uncynical—dare I say perky?—role of cheerleader for the Dream Team.

Filed under 1990s
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