Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Column: Taking lumps at Tufts with Scott Brown

“Bottom line is, you know, I didn’t go to Harvard … I went to the school of hard knocks.”

Sen. Scott Brown, Tufts University Class of 1981

As a fellow Tufts alum, I can vouch for Sen. Brown’s assertion that Tufts was, in fact, “the school of hard knocks.” In fact, I believe the wrought iron gate at the bottom of the Memorial Steps bore the words “Tufts University, a.k.a. The School of Hard Knocks,” with the phrase “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” underneath that, in smaller letters.

I recall walking up those very same steps on more than one occasion, battered by wind and rain, or at least drizzle, and thinking, “This is a living hell! Damn those Harvard students, being carried to and from campus in solid-gold sedan chairs!” But it built character, and I usually just caught the free student shuttle anyway.

I remember when I arrived for student orientation in 1986, the university president, Dr. Jean Mayer, told us, “You are about to enter the toughest four years of your life. You’ll have to fight for every scrap, and the world will knock you down at every turn, and you’ll learn lessons the hard way, by being beaten within an inch of your life.” Actually I’m not sure what he said, because he had a fairly thick French accent and I was daydreaming about the buffet that followed the event, but I’m sure it was something like that.

It wasn’t long before I started receiving the hard knocks that Scott Brown would no doubt have warned me about if he hadn’t clawed and scraped his way out of Tufts and never looked back. For instance, I found that if you didn’t get to the dining hall early, sometimes they would run out of soft-serve ice cream. And once, when I forgot to bring an assignment to class, the professor gave me a pretty icy glare before telling me I could give it to her tomorrow.

We were a hardscrabble bunch, we students there at the Tufts University School of Hard Knocks and its affiliated graduate schools, such as the Tufts Veterinary School of Hard Knocks and the Fletcher School of Hard Knocks and Diplomacy. (The vet school was actually on the Grafton campus, which I can only assume had even harder knocks, some of them involving tramplings.) We were a lot like the characters in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” except instead of drowning in a muddy gutter we were spending four years on a lush university campus. But inside, where it counts: gutter drowning.

I can only imagine how hard the knocks were when Brown attended Tufts a few years earlier. Did the dining halls not even have soft-serve ice cream? Did even fewer students have their own parent-provided cars for easy travel to local attractions? Were there even more 8 a.m. classes, seriously inhibiting your ability to stay up until 2 a.m. the night before, holding contests with the guys in your hall to see who could eat the most “suicide spicy” buffalo wings? I’m sure only the strong survived.

Luckily for Scott Brown, he had grown up on the rough-and-tumble streets of Wakefield, Mass., where people lived in constant fear that at any moment, Wakefield native Israel Horovitz might have jumped out of a cul-de-sac and put them in one of his plays. Brown’s childhood there no doubt prepared him for his years getting knocked down and getting up again at Tufts, followed by his stint at Boston College Law School of Hard Knocks, where he no doubt learned that hard knocks can be just cause for a serious personal injury suit.

But clearly Scott lifted himself up by his bootstraps, because he’s now a United States senator. And even if he didn’t mention Tufts by name when referring to the school of hard knocks he attended, it’s nice to know that despite all his success, his alma mater is still so close to his heart.

Even if he has aides to get him his ice cream now.

Peter Chianca is editor in chief for GateHouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca.

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