A rebel comes home

Annabel Wright

Annabel Wright

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In retrospect, Ryan had given me a gift. He’d made me think, for the first time, about what “giving back” might mean. Until that day, I’d assumed all along that the university had been lucky to have me and would forever be grateful. True, after graduation, my cover letter seeking a job as a sportswriter at 15 New England papers, accompanied by clips of my cynical essays about skipping classes to watch martial-arts movies on Chapel Street, were met with 15 variously worded rejections. None actually said, “BA in philosophy from an Ivy, and we’re supposed to be impressed? Contact us when you’ve actually done something”—but I could read between the lines.

My response to that collective slap in the face: it made this rebel without a cause shrug off ties to the vaunted institution, even more than I had before.

I still saw Yale as a place of magic, as it had been the first day I’d stepped onto Old Campus. Those hypnotic high-above-godly notes spilling from the Harkness carillon still echoed in my head. The sweatscents in the hallways of that medieval gym after a friendly game of squash lingered in my memory; the taste of Yankee Doodle cheeseburgers lingered in my taste buds. Not to mention echoes of the theories and oratory of the most brilliant instructors on earth, from David (Deadwood) Milch ’66, to the great writer John Hersey ’36, to Tom Gould, the classicist who connected the dots between ancient and modern—all of them still dwelling somewhere in my hippocampus. I had trod on hallowed ground, and at some meaningful level, I knew it.

But I decided that, in my new profession, I would not use the word “Yale”—a syllable that conjures some image not only clichéd but wildly inaccurate. Hell, I wouldn’t use it for anything. I had places to go, and not just physical ones, and I didn’t want a label that had never (I thought back then) fit me at all.

And so, as the years passed and I finagled jobs at increasingly literate newspapers, and found myself in press boxes manned by the grizzled pros I’d grown up idealizing, I shed my Yaleness—sometimes even telling other sportswriters that I’d gone to the University of New Haven. I headed toward a happy C+/B- of a career—partly, I think, to tell Yale that its flaw had been to expect much from me without ever trying to explain exactly how to achieve it. Because I’d been ordained Yale-worthy, I was expected to go out and be a proud, world-changing Yalie. But how to do it? Slacker that I was, not without ambition but not exactly Wolf’s Head material, I hadn’t a clue.

My chosen vocation—sportswriter—was a livelihood that earned little money but through the years gave my oversized ego joy with every byline. See that name in the Washington Post? In the Times mag? Rolling Stone? GQ? The New Yorker (OK, once)? On those six book covers… and still counting?

It always read, By Peter Richmond. I’d done it all on my own!

As if.