A Navy Seal Analogy and the University of Chicago

I want to share 4 years’ worth of observations about a very special group at the University of Chicago. My reason for using the Seal analogy (besides fact that a couple of the young men are applying to become Seals) is that the group I am writing about is a small minority at University of Chicago–just as the Seals are relative to the larger US Navy community. I would hope this post informs applicants and incoming students & families about a “lane” that exists at the University of Chicago for new students with similar interests.

This group’s overall makeup approximates the following:

  • · About 25 of them in the senior class.
  • · All with GPA’s around 3.5, many at 3.7, and several near 4.0.
  • · Many graduated in less than 4 years.
  • · Vastly diverse socio economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
  • · Hailing from every region of the USA.
  • · This group arrived at University of Chicago more likely to have worked high school breaks at Home Depot vs. an internship at the Aspen Institute.
  • · Nearly every one of them began as a student athlete; 95% of them earned varsity letters, most achieved academic all-conference awards, and several became varsity captains.
  • · They are mostly economics majors; they recognized early on that this University of Chicago department is regarded by many as the world’s best.
  • · Several pursuing medical school and law school.
  • · The ones pursuing finance careers achieved a 100% success rate at the top investment banking, private equity, and hedge funds in the world.
  • · Not one pursued a career in consulting despite McKinsey being a University of Chicago alumni.
  • · A few developed relationships with female classmates that are like minded and which may produce future marriages; we would not be surprised to see these young men eventually standing as groomsman in at least a half dozen of their fraternity brothers’ weddings.

Intellectually, this is a group that literally soaked up the University of Chicago’s spirit of Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, and the Federalist Society’s legal influence. They consume a daily diet of modern-day intellectual podcasts—Ben Shapiro and Dinesh Dsouza being mainstays. They are deeply into the crypto community following the Winklevoss twins, Michael Saylor, and Raoul Pal regularly and they are substantial participants in the “Reddit Trading” community. This groups studies, reads, and debates with intensity. They don’t often find students with different views willing to engage in robust economic and political debate; when they have I have observed how they politely engage in discourse.

All of these young men have dear friends on teams at peer schools like MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and Columbia. It is noteworthy that they all report that their friends have not found “as robust a lane” of likeminded intellectuals at peer schools; many of them say their friends all wish they could have been part of this group at University of Chicago.

I have also been highly impressed by the teamwork this group exhibited; they essentially have a 180 degree opposite of a cutthroat culture. When some members experienced challenges that life deals they sacrificed time and effort to support their fraternity brothers. On the job front, when the most coveted positions required extensive networking, preparation, and due diligence to procure and prepare for an interview this group decided to share their materials so as to help one another.

I suspect that if J.D. Vance had chosen University of Chicago, and became a member of this house, we may never have been enlightened by this author’s Hillbilly Elegy masterpiece.

This collection of young men expanded their intellects by challenging each with the “iron sharpens iron” approach to improvement.

As the University of Chicago makes a concerted effort to build upon recruiting success with students from Texas and students with past military experience it is clear to me that this lane will continue to grow and evolve. For sure—this lane is not for everyone. But the fact that it may not even exist at some of the peer schools leads me to believe its availability may become yet another special attribute which the University of Chicago can use to compete for the very finest students with multiple options at the peer schools above.

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Interesting, odd, and a bit confusing post.

What is the significance of sharing your last two bullet-points ?

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Disjointed thoughts. Confusing logics. Indoctrinated.

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Why not share the name of this fraternity?

Oh, dear…

I take Bronx’s post as a brief sketch of a certain tribe of like-minded students at the U of C. It sounds like they share a culture rooted in athletics, fraternities, politics, and economics. I could imagine a Robert Park-like study of this little group. They are good students, but they have a certain strenuousness about challenging themselves. They have a sense of themselves as being different but also as fitting within the broader culture of the University. Calling them SEALs is no doubt meant to be hyperbolic, but it isn’t an absolutely new metaphor: the College has been called “boot camp” with affection or loathing for many years.

Only current students can say how accurate this description is, but the OP might have a better insight than most of us: he has a son at Chicago who is either a third- or fourth-year and might very well be a member of the tribe in question. His thesis is that these kids are a minority but one freer to express themselves than their counterparts at the other elites. That sounds like it could be true. There’s a long tradition at Chicago of honoring unorthodox behavior and opinions. There are many sources of that tradition, and it is one that goes well beyond economic studies and conservative politics, though it could extend to those things, especially in a time like the present one.

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Some of this is a little scary. I don’t think of Ben Shapiro or Dinesh D’Souza as representing anything like the intellectual tradition of the University of Chicago, not to mention the “‘Reddit Trading’ community” or the “crypto community.” It’s a little disappointing that they seem to have formed their own pod of people with the same major and outlooks, and even chromosomes, except for a few “female classmates that are like minded.” Lucky them!

I am glad to know, however, that they engage politely in their robust economic and political discourse on the rare occasions when they find someone outside the echo chamber who is willing to spend time with them – that is very Chicago-like.

Contrasting anecdote: I have a friend whose son and my daughter were classmates at Chicago, graduating a little more than a decade ago. My friend’s son and his experience at Chicago were pretty much exactly as described by the OP, although it took him a while to reconcile himself to the fact that he had not been recruited by any Division I programs in his sport. Anyway, a decade on, he has learned that he detested working in finance with people much like his college self. After a lot of soul-searching and dues-paying, he is a PhD student in linguistics. He married a woman, from another country, who is not exactly like-minded, with whom he developed a passionate intellectual relationship online. The couple met IRL only after he had proposed marriage to her. In other words, somewhat to everyone’s surprise (including his own), he turned out to be very much a Chicago type.

Regarding the last two bullet points:

  1. Found it surprising that not one of these students, to my knowledge, ended up on the consulting path-- so often a first cousin of the finance path.
  2. The last bullet was influenced by thoughts provoked from the book below—and one specific thought being the author’s points of view may be as applicable to young men as young women.
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Ben Shapiro? Seriously??

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I’m not entirely sure I understand the point of this post. Is it supposed to enlighten us Chicago applicants about a group of people we could be friends with? If so, what is the name of the group? Is it a fraternity, a club, or some kind of unofficial student organization? Is it supposed to demonstrate some kind of quality about the university that might be attractive? If so, what exactly is this quality? I had to read the post multiple times in an attempt to understand exactly what is going on, and I’m still not sure I do.

I pretty much stopped at “Some of this is a little scary.” That’s the new way of describing speech that some believe should be shamed or suppressed.

Regardless of someone’s politics, philosophy or ideology, they needn’t be alarmed by the presence of a “pod” that makes up about 1.4% of the Class of '23. There are echo chambers of a much greater number elsewhere on campus, and they are more vocal and less polite.

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Maybe it’s me, but I find this post a bit confusing. I do not understand why anyone would be “alarmed”.

OP is just sharing some observations about a group with which OP is familiar at UChicago.

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Agree - OP hasn’t posted anything alarming, scary, confusing, disjointed or “indoctrinated.” It’s one perspective from a parent who has observed a relatively minor number of super-achievers with common interests. Those who believe otherwise need to get out of their own echo chamber. Just my own POV.

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Perhaps the answer can be found in the following from OP’s post:

UChicago is an institution where thought-diversity and the vigorous debate of ideas are still welcome. For at least a couple of reasons, those opportunities seem to exist less at other top places.

One caveat, however, based on personal observation: thought uniformity and “groupthink” are much more prevalent today at UChicago among students and even among some faculty than they used to be. So while it’s still relatively and “officially” a community of open discourse compared to other places, in reality the trend might be in the opposite direction among large segments of the academic community.

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For people who complained about indoctrination on other campuses, they should look at themselves in the mirror. If the OP isn’t a case of indoctrination (perhaps of a different kind), I don’t know what it is.

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Ben Shapiro is a racist. Anyone who idolizes him should not be held up as some sort of courageous iconoclast but rather as someone who is gullible, racist and not very intelligent. Very disappointing to hear this about U. of Chicago.

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Was not very impressed with Ben Shapiro the few times I have seen him in action - his delivery gave me a headache, and he was way too cocksure. Many pundits and media personalities on both the Left and the Right are like that. Too bad they can’t all have the insouciant elegance and elaborate courtesy of William F. Buckley (who came to Mandel Hall once to tell us that the progressive income tax was a bad idea). However, the quick application of the r-word to dismiss Shapiro - and by implication the young people who admire him - isn’t in the spirit of a U of C education. Hard things like that were also said about Buckley back in the sixties, though he too had a small cohort of supporters in that packed audience in Mandel Hall. Most of us in that audience were unpersuaded by his arguments, and a good many were heated in saying so. That, not name-calling, is the way to deal with ideas you don’t like.

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Let’s not start name calling…

Right-leaning students (and their families) are becoming the only URMs that don’t enjoy admissions preferences these days. This is a shame because elite universities are increasingly becoming echo chambers across the country.

The OP is just another parent trying to rationalize/make themselves feel better about their kid going to UChicago. This inferiority complex has got to stop. UChicago is a fine school and certainly growing in reputation.

UChicago has the reputation of encouraging the vigorous debate of ideas and markets itself as a “no-safe spaces” community. While this is commendable, achievable is another issue. 25 kids out of a senior class of over 1100 is not strong evidence.

There is another thread on CC that offered data ad nauseum how UChicago is becoming the top destination for graduates of the elite boarding schools. This is no doubt true and smart on Chicago’s part to go after these students given how competitive admission to the Ivys have become.

It is worth noting that being a student-athlete at UChicago just means the student like playing a sport. If the student were good enough to play for an Ivy, they would be playing for an Ivy. After all, wouldn’t it be better to play in an athletic league of similarly-talented students with a long history of competition? Who does U Chicago play? How often do they beat Northwestern in anything athletic?

Let the OP feel good about his investment in UChicago. It sounds like his kid had a good experience. My question is, what was it like being a Navy SEAL?

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Ben Shapiro is a racist. He’s also a crackpot: “Shapiro is also (unsurprisingly) a DDT health risks denier who pushes the
urban myth that Rachel Carson’s anti-DDT campaign led to millions dying of malaria.”

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Why should “right-leaning” students get admissions preference? Left-leaning ones don’t.

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