Archive for January 15th, 2011

Annals of mediocre writing: JFK’s Harvard application

Saturday, January 15th, 2011
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Kids, do not — repeat, do not — use the essay below as a model for your Stanford or Ivy League entrance application.  The following is from the young John F. Kennedy in 1935, responding to the question: “Why do you wish to go to Harvard?”

The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.

April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy

The occasion for this revelation is the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is digitizing reams of JFK artifacts. The Gawker issues this invitation:  “If you find something cool in the JFK Presidential Library’s increasingly thick digital archives, post it in the comments.”

His father’s letter to the dean was brutally honest: “Jack has a very brilliant mind for the things in which he is interested, but is careless and lacks application in those in which he is not interested. This is, of course, a bad fault.”  Apparently he wasn’t too interested in getting into Harvard, from the evidence.  His grades weren’t so hot, either.

In fairness, however, the lackluster “essay” probably indicates how low-key the application process was, 80 years ago, especially if you came from a tony family.  This was long before the era when upper-crust families would hire marketing teams and Nobel laureates to tailor the applications.  His acceptance was probably a foregone conclusion, and the application little more than an annoyance.

The revelation comes to us courtesy the Gawker, which charitably describes the application as “refreshingly banal.”

There’s more.  In the comments, Jukie notes:  “My freshman year at princeton I had a class that took us into the school’s library archives to look at JFK’s application. (JFK spent a few months at Princeton before transferring to Harvard. Academic Wimp.) His application included a christmas card from his family and a hand-written note from his father.”

Octothorp asks:  “Why didn’t he just save himself some time, scrawl ‘My dad is Joe Kennedy’ across the first page, and hand that in?”  Anne V6 adds, “I hope they gave him a handwriting scholarship.”