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Scathing Online Schoolmarm
February 7, 2008 - 4:42am



Here's writing that doesn't work -- doesn't convince its audience.

In her parenthetical commentary, SOS tells you why.


[This is the headline, and you don't have to be Stanley Fish to be fussing already. Who said universities are about my immortal soul? Even Catholic ones, like Georgetown, aren't primarily religious. They're intellectual.]

"For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" - Mark, 8:36.

[The opinion writer in the GU student newspaper provides a biblical epigraph for his short piece. Mistake. You might want to provide something along these lines for your 800-page confession, but it comes across as pompous to head newspaper work in this way. Tons of readers will stop reading at this point -- preacherman!]

The solicitations arrive often. [End on your strongest word. Often is weak.] The alumni magazine, the annual appeal from the Georgetown Fund and, of course, the many reminders of the upcoming 10-year reunion. [Drop of course . The main problem in this piece will be a kind of shaky tone. Is he sarcastic, regretful...? Little droppings like of course are part of the problem. As presented, it's hard for readers to understand whether they're snarky or straightforward or what...] My goodness, has it really been a decade since we strode across the stage, with a hangover, to receive an overpriced diploma? [Tone problem again. My goodness is such an ancient artifact -- can this guy... who's what? 28? Really mean it straight?] As I recall those glory days [ Were they glory days? Again, it's destructive to your argument if at this early stage the reader is anxiously trying to figure out what mood you're in.], I can't help but grin remembering the long hours of debate with rowdy and drunken roommates from Darnall Hall's first floor and those all-too-short nights with the beautiful ladies I am still surprised I was able to bed. [ Again, beautiful ladies is just weird. Unless he's trying to be funny. I think he's not.]

By most accounts, my Georgetown career was a great success. I earned two degrees in political theory and classics, hosted a radio show, wrote a column for the HOYA and won the historic Philodemic Society's Merrick Debating Medal. [Drop historic . You're boasting.] I interned for both Michael Novak and Robert Novak and made many connections that served me well when I fulfilled my senior year dream of visiting every congressional district and insular territory after graduation. Afterward, I find myself back in my native Minnesota plotting to run for political office as an independent, and I am very proud to say I graduated from the Hilltop.

Yet, I have never given a dime to Georgetown - and I never will. You see, in the decade since, I also look back on my beloved alma mater with great regret and sorrow. [ Drop various intensifiers that are actually weakening this prose: very, great . And there's the tone problem again: Does he mean beloved ? Or is he being ironic? The reader should know - the writer should have control of his tone .] Georgetown is an elite institution with an international reputation that punches a card for lawyers, doctors, bankers, and a good number of politicians. [ Punches a card is unfair.] It is not, however, a university that graduates many Christian gentlemen or women of virtue. [ Once more, these archaisms invite the reader to suppose the writer's being satirical. But if you read the whole essay, he isn't. He actually thinks a phrase like women of virtue will resonate with his readers, rather than make them giggle.] The social scene at Georgetown, then as now, revolves around ever-present alcohol (a guy from New Jersey sold me a fake i.d. my first week of school) and always available "random hookups." [ Why the quotation marks? Drop them.] Sin, sex, and shots at The Tombs are good for the temporal senses - but bad for the immortal soul. I confess to my brother and sister Hoyas - I was no saint during the four years I attended the oldest Catholic university in America. As I once quipped to a friend, "At Georgetown I was a conservative Catholic by day, a liberal Protestant at night."

The failings of the student body are well-reflected in a morally bankrupt (and ever dwindling) Jesuit community and secular-minded administration. A school more concerned with endowment size than the immortal soul of its students, it is a far cry from John Henry Newman's ideal of a Catholic University. [ morally bankrupt; far cry... cliches] The president of Georgetown is not even a member of the Society of Jesus.

...As I reflect on those days, I also recall an arrogant young man who cared more for himself than others, and while educated well in mind, was poorly taught in body and spirit. I recall the insanity of the notorious fight with the "English" department over keeping Shakespeare in a department more concerned with gender and sexual identity than great literature, and the utter absurdity of fighting the Jesuit community over having crucifixes in the classroom. [ The problem with intensifiers -- notorious, utter -- is that they carry little more than the writer's anger.] Georgetown's professors care more for the philosophy of the '60s than the timeless truth of 2,000 years learned from Catholic thought and tradition. How many Georgetown students today have ever even had a class on Catholicism or the Catechism? Georgetown is many great modern things - yet a Catholic university dedicated to the eternal truths of man and God, it most surely is not.

It has been a decade now since we last met. A decade to learn, travel, reflect, and get far away from Georgetown. A decade to go to confession and ask forgiveness for my many failings as a man and a Hoya. Yet it has also been a decade to clearly see the truth. Georgetown University is a great school for preprofessionals and pompous Bill Clinton wannabees. I was one of them, and it was a great time. It is a horrible place for those who want an authentic Catholic university that prepares not just the mind, but also the soul, for the hard battles that lie ahead. My advice to my fellow members of the class of 1998 - send your money and your children to Notre Dame. [ Good final bit -- Notre Dame is good - but by this point the writer has driven away all but the choir.]'


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