How many Harvardians does it take to change a lightbulb? (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle/GETTY IMAGES)

How do you atone for being absolutely overeducated?

Mitt Romney has been trying to figure this out. Recently he joked that President Obama’s foreign policy strategy is too “Harvard faculty lounge” for his tastes. “That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge,” he said, “but it’s not what they know on the battlefield!”

This has struck some people as funny, coming from a man with two Harvard degrees.

It's a classic first-world problem. It is so hard to tell people that you went to Harvard. They start handing you their economic problems to solve.

As a person whose Google results are dotted with references to a sojourn at the Giant Ivy-Clad Monstrosity, I sympathize. (I’m sorry, I have to mention this and call it a “sojourn” or I’ll lose my slot at the Insufferably Elitist Tools conclave this weekend. I hear Christopher Hitchens will be speaking!) But there is a strange mystique or stigma (depending on whom you’re talking to) attached to the School Somewhere Outside Boston. It is a sort of folk wisdom that you can’t just tell people you went there. You have to break it to them gradually, as though you were informing them of a horrible accident that had befallen you and probably diminished your ability to reproduce.

Actually, that’s about right.

I think, theoretically, when someone instated this practice, it was in an effort to sound less smug about it. But now it has rather the opposite effect.

“Where were you at school?”

“A School Somewhere Outside Boston,” you say.


You cough pointedly.

“Tufts," your interlocutor says, helpfully.

"Warmer," you say.

"Tufts: Miami."

"Never mind," you mutter, clearing your throat and pointing at the large crimson H that is sewn onto your bodice.

At this point your interlocutor decides to become irritatingly dense. "Are you a Hadulteress?" he or she asks. "Wasn't Emma Stone great in Easy A?"

You sigh. This is not going as you hoped. You tear off your shirt to reveal the giant crimson I WENT TO HARVARD, HARLOT that you have tattooed on your lower back to dissuade people foolish enough to date or hire you.

It’s not that people strictly mind your having gone to Harvard. It’s like snoring or alphabetizing your socks — a minor character flaw that can be overlooked. In some cases, people actually seem to like the Harvard pedigree. It is good to have someone in the building with a degree from the Horrible H — what if there’s an emergency that requires somebody to use the word “anacoluthon” in a sentence? But you can’t let it define you. It makes you sound as though your way of changing lightbulbs would be to stand there with the bulb while the world revolved around you.

Now Romney has this problem. Rick Perry is selling himself as the non-Ivy candidate. "No Ivy here," he says. "I'm clean."

"It's okay," Mitt insists. "I didn't inhale. I never visited the faculty lounge. Whenever people tried to offer me economic advice, I covered my ears and hummed patriotic tunes. I only went because I heard that Natalie Portman would be going there in the future."

The trick about having attended Harvard is that you have to make it clear that you didn’t like it. It seemed dirty. The ivy gave you rashes. The giant HARVARD tattoo on your lower back was a cruel prank played on you by a tattoo artist who swore it was a sexy butterfly. “Look,” Romney says, “Obama might have enjoyed it, but I was just there to extract as much information as possible from those east-coast elitist dogs and be on my way. My time there was a painful duty! God I’m glad to be back somewhere where they don’t thrust lobster at me on golden forks.”

Besides, he had to earn the right to mock it.

"Bunch of Harvard-educated egghead losers!" Romney yells, as they walk past. "No, it's okay, we can call each other that. See you guys later at the wine tasting."

Actually it might be best not to over-stress this point.