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Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Welcome to College

October 20, 2000

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When 1,600 or so students decided to attend Harvard, here's something they didn't expect -- that I would be taking their freshman ID photo. It doesn't seem fair that such specimens of academic excellence should be subjected to my poor and questionable photography skills. But, then again, oh Harvard frosh, you will soon learn that life is not always fair. And, by the way, that thumb in your ID photo, it's not mine. Honest.

I'm still not sure why I didn't just say no when my boss asked me to help out at freshman registration. I guess I simply wanted the chance to welcome these future leaders of the world into the very special place that is Harvard University. I wanted to see the look on their faces as they took their first tentative steps towards greatness. And, of course, I wanted to gawk openly at 18-year-old girls.

Unfortunately, it was so busy that I didn't even have time to gawk properly. With an assembly line of eager Harvard freshmen before me -- usually about two or three a minute -- I barely had a chance to look at my watch. For three hours, four of us took photo after photo with hardly a moment's break.

Luckily, there wasn't much skill required. Even I couldn't cause much harm. A digital camera was connected to my computer, and my monitor was essentially the viewfinder. I just waited until the person looked presentable enough and hit enter to snap the picture. Once finished, I could see the result right there on my monitor. If it was awful, no problem. We could simply take another.

In time, I let the students look at each photo and judge for themselves whether it was a keeper. Perhaps I shouldn't have done this. "They're ID photos. They're supposed to be bad," a friend later exclaimed. She's right, but it wasn't that big a deal. My line was slightly slower than the others, but it may have been more popular. "You're the greatest," a gaggle of 18-year-old girls gushed at one point after I let them each have multiple photos. I smiled back. It's always nice to be appreciated by women more than ten years younger.

Not everyone was so happy, though. I took a perfectly good picture of one girl -- one of my best pictures actually -- but she insisted that it looked horrible. I let her have another. The second picture was identical, but she still despised it. I was starting to feel insulted. Was my work not good enough? Here, after about 45 minutes of picture snapping, I was starting to develop pride in my photography. She begged for a third picture, but I refused. My artistic integrity would not be compromised, even when I heard her describe me later as "the angry guy."

Another girl insisted on four photos, although the first three were more than adequate. The problem was that I could never go back to an earlier photo. Whenever I snapped an extra shot, the previous one was lost, so it was a little like gambling. This girl's pictures were fine, but she was never satisfied. She kept imploring me to take "just one more picture," as if her very life depended on it. Finally, after the third picture, I set an ultimatum. "One more, and that's it. You're stuck with that one," I said. When that picture came out just awful, I confess that I was more than a little amused. You have to know when to hold them. I guess that was her first lesson at Harvard.

Soon, a game developed where friends of each student would look at my monitor and announce whether the photo was okay. At first, I liked this. I had received exactly three minutes of training, so it was nice to have some extra input before I hit the save button. Gradually, the 18-year-old girls started to help the 18-year-old boys, and vice-versa. "Oh, you looked really great in that picture," apparent strangers started telling members of the opposite sex. My line was steadily devolving into a pick-up joint. It was then that I decided to pick up the pace.

From there, the morning moved along quite smoothly until Dr. Evil showed up. "Hey! Can I get my picture taken as Dr. Evil?" he asked while putting his pinky finger near his mouth a la Mike Myers.

I told him no. There was no way. But he insisted, as if this was some lifelong dream. It was unbelievable. Some kid somewhere was rejected by Harvard, just so Dr. Evil here could get in. You'd think he would at least have chosen a movie character that wasn't already a year out of date.

"Come on! It'll be awesome!" he argued, rhetoric obviously not his strongest area.

"No, I'm not letting you do that."


"No, you really don't want to do that. Trust me."

"Come on. It'll be great."

"No. Look, just take your finger out of your mouth, okay?"

This went on for awhile. He was starting to hold up the line, all the time with his stupid pinky finger in his mouth. I suppose I could have tricked him into getting a normal picture. Distract him, and take the picture when he didn't expect it. But then I thought about it. It occurred to me that I didn't care at all whether he looked like Dr. Evil on his ID. I'll probably get in trouble for this, but I took the picture. Frankly, I didn't like him, and the thought of him being stuck with this idiotic ID for the next four years was quite appealing.

"That's so AWESOME!" he squealed when he saw the picture. His sidekick -- it figures he already had a sidekick -- just looked up at him with complete awe. I'm guessing it'll be about three weeks before he starts to have regrets. Four before the sidekick moves on.

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