Skip to main content

Introduction to Overanalysis

Rachel Weinberger '80

OK, I admit it: I was a mainstream Swarthmore student. Nothing out of the ordinary about me-no social causes, no unusual majors, no strong politics, no groundbreaking research. Just a girl from New Jersey who was pure liberal arts. With a major in art history-not even honors-I gobbled up as many art, music, history, and literature classes as I could, and decided to worry about a career later.

After graduation, I was torn between my love for the arts and the desire to make enough money to have a comfortable life. I clearly recall trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade a Morgan Stanley interviewer that my overdeveloped analytical skills were completely applicable to their intern program and that my lack of financial/economics classes-not abundantly available in our ivory tower-wouldn't be a deterrent.

In frustration, I went to business school in search of a degree that would get me a job. And it did. In 1983, having an M.B.A. was a significant qualification, and I got a job at a major New York bank-one that has since been eaten up by larger international institutions. But throughout my career, a Swarthmore education has been what mattered most. I consistently heard that although anyone could learn the technical skills, it was my ability to communicate effectively and to develop relationships that distinguished me.

While I was an average student academically, I did manage to sail through what I think of as "Introduction to Overanalysis" and "Advanced Overanalysis." My husband (a William and Mary graduate) is convinced that to get through four years at Swarthmore, we all had to excel in overanalysis and nurture a propensity to be extraordinarily verbal, if not verbose. To me, that's the essence of Swarthmore: our ability to communicate, whether by oral or written word, musical word, scientific word, philosophical word, English or ancient Greek word-it doesn't matter. It's what we do best, what is inherently part of us. And it's the purest definition of liberal arts.

As a high school senior, I was accepted by both Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. I visited the two schools to figure out where I'd be happier. At Swarthmore, I had dinner with a group of freshmen with whom I then spent the evening, talking endlessly about whatever was critical to 17 and 18 year olds in 1976. I felt comfortable, as if I'd found a home, and I told my parents I was going to Swarthmore because I'd met people like me-exactly the kind of friends I wanted.

A few weeks into my freshman year, as I was talking late into the night with some sophomore women, I realized they were part of the group with whom I'd had dinner during that visit a few months earlier. Now, 27 years later, two of them remain my most cherished friends. We still have long conversations, obsessing over details and, of course, analyzing whatever it is we're discussing-children, careers, family, books, movies, food, music, the occasional foray in politics. Beyond them, there are other more distant Swarthmore friends with whom I'm always able to pick up our conversation as if we had spoken, written, or e-mailed just the day before.

The courses I remember best involved analysis and communication: Professor Metzidakis' Spanish literature class in my freshman year, where I struggled to be as fluently articulate in Spanish as in English; an intense historiography seminar with Professor Kitao in which we debated whether Michelangelo was an atheist; a paper I presented for double credit in Greek Art and Archeology with Connie Hungerford, in which I analyzed the painting and pigments on various Greek vases; Bernie Smith's Medieval History class, where we discussed the finer points of Benedictine and Cistercian monks; and Peter Swing's History of Music class, where the analysis of musical phrases was as difficult as what my friends were doing in Physical Chemistry. I remember sometimes feeling-especially during a long night writing art history papers-like the Austrian archduke in the play and movie Amadeus, who tells Mozart that his opera has "too many notes," or, in my case, words.

But my years at Swarthmore were about so much more than classes. When I left for college, my father paraphrased Mark Twain and told me not to let my classes get in the way of my education. And I didn't. Today, it makes me tired to think that when I was 18 years old, I sat in the amphitheater until 4 a.m., talking. The talking-at meals, in the library, between classes, and well into the night-is what I remember more than anything.

And here we are today. After 20 years in the financial-services industry, I've become a victim of the economy, forced to close the office I was running. For the first time since leaving graduate school, I don't have a job, and I lost this one at the height of my career. Much to my surprise, I realize that if I don't return to this particular career, it doesn't matter. I'm still the same person because my family and friends, my upbringing, and my education shaped who I am. That overdeveloped ability to think clearly, speak articulately, write thoughtfully, read constantly, and, yes, analyze everything is with me-no matter what the external circumstances.

It seems to be time to return to my roots and find something more creative that will allow me to use fully the skills that were honed at Swarthmore. Perhaps what I do next will play to my liberal arts core-something that contributes more to society than designing a tax-efficient estate plan for someone with millions of dollars.

That's the other thing about many of us late-1970s to mid-1980s graduates: If we go in a direction that is not socially responsible, we are often pulled back. I always wanted to make a difference somehow, and now I am aware that I am doing so. I'm not going to expunge terrorism, bolster the economy, cure Parkinson's disease, or discover the lost island of Atlantis, but I have changed the lives of the people I love-and those who love me.

And in that pursuit, I am fueled by the things that are for me the essence of Swarthmore: the need and ability to communicate-and the lasting friendships I formed there.


Rachel Weinberger has held management positions at several financial institutions.