By Danny Tobey
By Danny Tobey
The Faculty Club is a book about values. Sure, it’s a book about secret societies, Ivy League intrigue, and ancient riddles. But those are really just symbols for something much more important: how our next generation of leaders comes of age. And how they become the flawed adults they are.
I’m writing this because I saw Glenn on TV talking about how our political leaders have lost their way. Right and left, Democratic and Republican, something vital is missing. We all feel it. And we want it back.
Jeremy Davis is the broken hero of The Faculty Club. Like me, he’s a public school kid from Texas who worked hard and ended up at an Ivy League school. And like me, he found himself surrounded by beautiful, fascinating people, nursing an inferiority complex and an overwhelming desire to make it.
Jeremy loses his way. Not because he’s a bad guy, but because he wants to succeed so badly that he stops caring what it takes to get there.
I learned about virtue at Harvard, one night that was supposed to be a scholarly event but almost became a riot. My roommates and I went to hear a debate on affirmative action, the hot button issue of our day. The speakers were famous professors, half liberal, half conservative. We came late, of course, and found terrible seats in the back. There was a mob-like line out the door, and the crowd was tense and wild, like a rock concert. People were pushing to get in. One girl tried to save a whole row and nearly caused a fistfight.
Then came the announcement: the room was too small. It was a fire hazard. Harvard was moving the debate to a bigger auditorium. People went crazy, shoving toward the door. Of course, we were in the back, without hope, until my roommate saw people – Harvard students! – climbing the radiators up to the windows ten feet above us.
Well, why not?
From high above, perched on the ledge ready to jump, I saw shadows of students running across the field, already stampeding to the next building.
I asked myself: Where on Earth was I? I leapt and dropped ten feet, feeling something go thud under me as I landed. It was a poor student, crushed by my fall! I tried to beg forgiveness but the figure was already back up and sprinting across the field! I saw a big moon above and wondered:
Had America’s best and brightest gone lunatic?
Were we all just werewolves deep down, harboring a beast within?
We got perfect seats in the next room. We were proud. Gloating! What industry! What dedication! To leap from a window for knowledge!
And then they moved us again, to Sanders Theater, the biggest lecture hall on campus.
By the time we got there, we were last again, sitting in the top balcony. The famous professors looked like ants in the distance.
How were we supposed to feel? We’d gone from embarrassed (back row late-arrivals in the first room) to proud (front-row industrious window-jumpers in the second) to defeated (upper upper balcony)? And worse still, we found out later that some students were even smart enough to predict the future, skip the middle room, and head straight to Sanders!
What did I learn that night?
For one thing, you can label just about any outcome fair or unfair depending on when you start the clock. I’m no moral relativist. I have an almost naïve sense of right and wrong. But that night taught me to be very careful whenever I become too certain of my own rightness.
I also learned that inside the nation’s National Merit Finalists and Westinghouse Scholars, there is an angry mob just looking for the slightest excuse to come out. Sure, the stakes were low that night. But it was a great reminder. Democracy is only as good as its citizens, and just as fragile.
And most important? However crazy that night was, the real world was so much more complex. And at the end of the day, all you could really know for sure was: win or lose, was I proud of the way I got there?
Because the means don’t just get you to the ends. They change the ends. How you get there defines where you are and what it means.
The ghost that haunts The Faculty Club is Jeremy’s grandfather, a small town lawyer who made a modest living and helped people. While there are plenty of real ghosts in The Faculty Club, Jeremy’s grandfather is just a memory that tugs at his heart and guides his way. To me, Jeremy’s grandfather is the Ghost of America Past: the generation that fought in World War II and put family and community above personal gain. He’s based on my real grandfather, a Texas surgeon with a gentle manner and a twinkle in his eye. When he died, I felt like I lost my connection to something stable and sacred in American history.
It’s something my generation can save in the way we raise our own kids.
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what The Faculty Club is about. What is a secret society but a way for people to pass on their values and ideas to the next generation? And Jeremy has to ask himself: is this what I want to become? And do I have the courage to say no – even if it means giving up everything I’ve ever dreamed of?
I won’t spoil Jeremy’s answer. And I’ll keep working on my own.