Monday, August 22, 2005

The Worst Harvard Alumna

Transcript of January 15, 1984 Telephone Conversation

Glenda: Hello.

Voice: Glenda Cleaver?

Glenda: This is she.

Voice: I am calling on behalf of the Harvard University student-loan program. You are six months behind on your payments. (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” swells.) Could you lower the music? I’m having difficulty hearing.

Glenda: Sorry. (“Thriller” dies, a match strikes, a cigarette lights.) I know I’m late. But I just moved to New York and I don’t have a job yet. It’s not like I’m not trying. But I majored in women’s studies. Not exactly a lot of jobs out there in women’s studies. Men are afraid to hire you on the off chance that you’re some angry feminist with hairy armpits, and women, well. I’m trying to be patient.

Voice: You owe $900 in back payments.

Glenda: Well, maybe you can get together with my landlord and form some kind of a club. (Silence.) You know what bothers me about all this? I had loans because I don’t have rich parents. It’s not my fault. Nobody’s meant to start out in the hole. Jesus. (Coffee spilling.) Shit. You know, if I were born in England my education would have been free.

Voice: Not if you attended Harvard.

Glenda: That’s beside the point. I’m just saying that this is all so hypocritical. I get two Harvard calls a day. One from you people and one from the alumni committee looking for a donation. It’s a little ridiculous, right?

Voice: If you’d like to schedule a payment I can make a promise note.

Glenda: Please. Talk to me. Tell me how I can get at least one of you off my back.

* * *

Dear Ms. Glenda Cleaver (’82):


Thank you for volunteering to interview prospective Harvard students. We are grateful to all alumni who sacrifice their spare time to talk with candidates. We ask you to treat these sessions as conversations; keep it casual. We are looking for a sense of the applicant’s personality. Approach this interview as you would any conversation at a cocktail party.

STUDENT: Corenna DePaul-Saunders
SCHOOL: Nightingale Bamford School
“People always tell me that I’m a great communicator.” Corenna said that at least four times, but I would have to disagree. On paper, she seems like an ideal Harvard student. But meeting Corenna is a bit too much like meeting a piece of paper.

All I can is quote her: “I’ve headlined and spearheaded the region’s most popular and well-respected public-access television show for the past four years. I can barely walk to the library without someone asking, ‘Didn’t I see you on TV last night?’ ” The absurdity of claiming fame off a public-access show goes without saying.

And on it goes: “My research on guinea pigs confirms a sexual bias against women on the S.A.T.” Um, no it doesn’t.

And how did Corenna grow to love guinea pigs and local TV? “Well my brother/sister/uncle invited me to…” Nepotism. Nothing but nepotism.

Speaking of family, Corenna has traveled “all over the world, to almost every country” because her parents “don’t like to leave their kids at home when they travel”. They don’t go to Florida like “less imaginative families do”. They charter boats in the Galapagos and sail around studying the wild life. (Her dad has a connection.)

This girl says she wants to be a doctor (“I talk to lonely people at the hospital for four hours a week”) but she doesn’t want to be a doctor; she wants to tell doctors what to do. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s unprofessional, but I hated her. Her last words to me were “Good luck!”

Good luck? Good riddance is more like it.


* * *

February 12, 1984 Telephone Conversation

Voice: Ms. Cleaver?

Glenda: This is she.

Voice: I’m calling from the Harvard Alumni Committee. You attended last week’s Wall Street mixer at T.G.I. Friday’s?

Glenda: Yes, I did. It was great. I think I made some great connections.

Voice: Well, someone recognized you in one of the photographs from the event. There was a forty-dollar admission fee to the gala. We don’t have you on record for paying.

Glenda: Oh. Right.

Voice: Could we take care of this with a credit card?

* * *

STUDENT: Greg Mason
SCHOOL: Trinity School (Scholarship)

I had to pay for Greg Mason’s strawberry sherbet because he claimed to be “penniless.” This kid may be a scholarship ruffian from Queens but no boy, especially one with a recurring role on a daytime soap, roams around New York without a buck in his pocket.

Oh sure. He talks a good game about being “real,” playing stickball and running through sprinklers. He said his family only made it to Coney Island twice a summer. And he never got to go on the rollercoaster because somehow, his mom always came up short.

Boo hoo, Greg, in your Brooks Brothers blazer.

It’s also worth noting that I followed Greg out the door and watched him buy a pack of cigarettes at a newsstand.

We don’t condone lying, do we?


* * *

February 20, 1984

Dear Ms. Cleaver,

Thank you for your interest in working at Random House. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a position at this time. We do wish you the best of luck in your job search.

Claire Mason
Editor-in Chief, Random House

P.S. Glenda, dear, it was great meeting you! Sorry we can’t be writing you with good news. Anyhow, what a fluke that you interviewed my son Greg last week! Let’s cross our fingers for my son, Greg Mason, Harvard Class of 1988! Best, Claire.

* * *

STUDENT: Wayne Kim
SCHOOL: Stuyvesant High School

Wayne Kim should go to Harvard because he needs Harvard. He is a poor son of immigrants. The real deal!

Wayne asked me a lot of questions about financial aid. He worried that he would stand out because of his poverty. The Kims own a deli; Wayne’s father didn’t pay taxes; he’s in a white-collar prison. My family is in similar straits so I assured Wayne that he mustn’t let his familial financial issues keep him down.

I like Wayne. He asked me point-blank, “Would an Asian, religious, math guy get into the good parties at Harvard? Do you have to pay for drinks? Do you have to get dressed up?”

Wayne has no confidence in himself, but isn’t that what we can give him?


* * *

February 25, 1984 Telephone Message

Glenda, this is, uh, this is Walt. Listen, hon, what fun last night, right? What fun, I know. And I got your message and there’s nothing I’d like more than to take you to the movies. But I can’t, G. Not tonight. I, uh, I’ll call you. I will.

* * *

STUDENT: Walton “Eton” Harper Jr.
SCHOOL: Home-schooled
It’s hard to believe that “Eton” was raised on the Upper West Side by a prominent defense attorney/real-estate magnate father (Walt Harper!) and a sculptor mother who shows at all the right downtown galleries.

I wanted to like Eton. Anyone would. He ordered a sundae and laughed, “I have no self control.” How sweet is that?

But then his father arrived. I “know” Eton’s dad, in a very “personal” way. He led me to believe that his marriage was ending, yet when he showed up to greet Eton, he was wearing a wedding ring and acted as if he barely knew me. Clearly, Walt Harper isn’t a man of ethics. So if you side with nature in the nature/nurture debate then you know we shouldn’t expect anything different from his son. Tragic, but true.


* * *

February 27, 1984 Telephone Conversation

Voice: Bear Sterns, mergers and acquisitions.

Glenda: Hi. My name is Glenda Cleaver and I, well I was a temp. And then there was a fire drill. Yesterday. Anyway I didn’t come back after the fire drill. But I still need to get my check. I did work four hours.

Voice: Right. I remember. The girl who said she didn’t want to touch the computer. (A long pause.) Do you have a doctor’s note?

Glenda: Well, no. I wasn’t sick. Not in that way. I’m just, you know things aren’t so great right now. I walked and I just sort of kept walking.

Voice: (Laughs.) You walked out on your first day as a temp and now you’re expecting us to pay you? (Laughs again, louder.)

* * *

STUDENT: Michael DeWitt
SCHOOL: Dalton School
Yes, Michael is the youngest comic ever to do his act on “Late Night with David Letterman.” But he just sees it the way I see it: His dad is head of Standards and Practices at NBC. David Letterman has every reason in the world to please him.

Michael has a brilliant future. But is this a person who needs to go to Harvard? I don’t think so. Michael knows exactly what he wants. Harvard is a place for asking the questions to which Michael already knows the answers. He needs Harvard like I need another edition of the alumni magazine telling me about the kids from my class getting Fullbrights.

Michael will not grow at Harvard; he is already twice published in the Lampoon. Restrain from the urge to let a Harvard man go to Harvard. I think Michael would actually prefer it if we admitted a woman instead of him. He is a wise old soul who would see the humor in that.


* * *

February 28, 1984

Dear NBC,

I am faxing my resume for consideration with your company. My references, including Michael DeWitt (his father is in S&P) are available upon request.

Glenda Cleaver

* * *

STUDENT: Virginia Baker
SCHOOL: P.S. 122
I met Virginia the day I walked out on a temp job. I was frazzled, visibly undone, mascara on my cheeks, a real mess. I was not what Virginia, a second-generation Colombian, expected. She could have walked out—who would put their academic career in the hands of a mess like me?

But Virginia stayed. In short, wow.

What moved me about Virginia was that she takes care of her bipolar sister and she isn’t the slightest bit of a martyr. In Colombia, she explained, a woman stood by her family no matter what. So she has worked thirty hours a week from the day she turned fourteen.

I support Virginia’s admission to Harvard because of her genuine spirit. When I grow up, I hope I too will be as optimistic, hard working and dedicated as this seventeen-year-old flautist.

I was jealous of Virginia, in the best way possible.


* * *

April 2, 1984

Dear Alumni Interviewer,

Thank you for contributing to our decision-making process. Your recommendations were a valuable asset for our admissions officers. Below, please find the decisions made regarding your students:

Corenna DePaul-Saunders: Accepted
Greg Mason: Rejected
Wayne Kim: Rejected
Walter “Eton” Harper, Jr.: Wait-listed
Michael DeWitt: Withdrawn*
Virginia Baker: Rejected

*Michael DeWitt’s life ended when he was struck by a taxicab on Sixth Avenue.

Harvard University Alumni Relations

* * *

January 10, 1985

Dear Admissions Committee,

Unfortunately, I cannot interview prospective students this year. I live in L.A. now and work in the Harvard Westlake School’s fundraising department. Thus, interviewing prospective Harvard students would put me in a compromising position. Plus which, I advise parents (some of whom are quite well known in the entertainment industry) on Ivy admissions. (It’s been a great source of income for me; I am now ahead on my student loans!) I do wish you the best of luck.

Please let in as many Harvard Westlake kids as you can!

Thanks much,
Glenda Cleaver
Caroline Kepnes gets weirded out when she has to write bios. She prefers writing short stories, romantic-comedy treatments, articles about celebrities, TV-show ideas. Hell she’d even rather write checks. She grew up on Cape Cod, started out in New York and lives now in Los Angeles. Her short stories are in the archives of The Barcelona Review, Eclectica, Eyeshot, Hobart, Thieves Jargon and Word Riot. There’s a long creepy story in Duck & Herring’s Pocket Field Guide too. You can reach her at But if you’re a Yankees fan, watch out.

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