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Professor John Barna coming in hot with the three page, hand-written letter.

This is how you get into NYU on an sizable academic scholarship, flunk out, get back into NYU for grad school, but don't attend. 

More or less to follow. (1/8)


Recommendation for Neeraj Katyal.”

Hm. Let's parse that for a moment.

“I have known Neeraj since his freshman year at NYU [in February 1996] and was his advisor until he left. I have kept in touch with him intermittently ever since. [His similar recommendation to The University of Chicago was dated 2/10/06.] As his personal statement indicates, he has lived through circumstances which would daunt most, and I will say only that such survival attests to his strength of character. My estimation of Neeraj is a superlative one despite --” 

Given my druthers, I would've preferred Barna to have both begun and ended this recommendation letter right around here

Regardless, he continued from there, at length. Let's give him his due respect and this recommendation an honest look.

(Despite the worst dud of an opening line a highly-regarded professor at a relatively-prestigious institution could ever put to paper.)



















“I have known Neeraj since his freshman year at NYU and was his advisor until he left. I have kept in touch with him intermittently ever since. As his personal statement indicates, he has lived through circumstances which would daunt most, and I will say only that such survival attests to his strength of character.   

     My estimation of Neeraj is a superlative one despite an unusually disastrous record at NYU that only he himself can explain fully. Otherwise he has always impressed me as remarkably intelligent – perhaps he was not challenged by us enough to sustain what in him is a strong and abiding intellectual curiosity. He may not have read the assigned textbooks while at NYU, but he did read anything he could get his hands on: no subject failed to interest him; no book or conversation failed to stimulate him, and those of us who listened to him were also stimulated.

     His most recent schooling with the University of Maryland at least indicates his true capability. He has an intense interest in learning for its own sake, and although not successfully applied at NYU, such reading eventually equipped him in various employment until returning to college.”









     “Neeraj let me peruse his finished personal statement for this application in order for me to refer to it if need be. I was impressed with his forthrightness about everything he had gone through, showing a genuine strengthening, I believe, in emotional and interpersonal skills. Most importantly perhaps for the purposes of this recommendation, the essays reminded me of his writing as an undergraduate, certain ones he has shown to me from time to time. I have a small and manageable group of advisees, and am able to look into more details of the students' academic life than is normal.

     Whatever the writing project was, Neeraj demonstrated the kind of fine mind which is capable of analyzing problems and of putting the imagination to work with an energy that would daunt most. This ability is evident in Neeraj's whole approach to writing: it not only reflects cogency, logic and the ability to reason abstractly, to conceptualize, but also has genuine creativity and imagination. His writing shows a depth in thinking which indicates much care in preparation. His topic or thesis is always accompanied by thorough research leading to a well-thought out point of view. He refuses to take short cuts, but rather investigates a problem until a bona fide conclusion can be reached.

     As in his written work, Neeraj speaks articulately; when discussing a project he employs some of the same approaches which animate his writing – clarity of ideas, seeing all sides of an issue.















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“...seeing all sides of an issue, making the kind of comments which are always intellectually stimulating. His enthusiasm in all endeavors is contagious; moreover, he is a good listener: he responds with great consideration to the ideas of others and is always sensitive to points of view other than his own.

     When at NYU he was generous with his time in community charity work. Neeraj did this with his fraternithy: NYU's fraternities are unique in that among other duties assigned, they are required to perform community service.

In that organization I would also add that he mixed well with everyone and supported others with his particularly mature outlook and was highly regarded and respected by his peers who often sought his advice.

     Neeeraj is a good, moral person. He is honest and straight forward in his dealings with people. He has a strong sense o duty, putting priority on work. But is at the same time no “drudge: he knows when to socialize and when to work. If the committee decides to overlook the NYU record, I predict outstanding success in Graduate social work (and career) by virtue of both high calibre intellectual and personal characteristics. I give him the highest recommendation possible -- and at this time in Neeraj's life I have no reservations in so doing. 


I kind of have a tongue-in-cheek issue with John Barna's letterhead screaming General Studies Program instead of The College of Arts & Sciences, in which I was enrolled, however fatefully. (GSP was a cruel, NYU acronym for Generally Stupid People.” That said, EWC was in GSP, and he remains one of the smartest people and best writers I've ever met, so let's move on.)   

Here is a recommendation from Norm Macdonald. I spent two semesters of sophomore year at SNL, 35 hours a week, at eighteen/nineteen years old. I was invited back by Caryn Nathanson Zucker for a third and fourth semesters, but had better things to do, like further diversifying my internship portfolio, and continuing to work religiously on my first script. (Plus, I was heading into my junior year of college, and while I prefer a writer's solitude, I also like to maintain a very active social calendar. Those 30 hour Friday and Saturdays were brutal, and in no way conducive to the single life or a girlfriend life.) 

In any case, I spent a lot of time in the Weekend Update offices, so if I was going to ask anyone for a recommendation, it would've been Frank Sebastiano, as I spent more time around Frank. To suggest otherwise would be disengenuous. Regardless, Norm said to write anything I want, and he would sign it. I mentioned that I already had references via my Film and Photo bosses in Caryn and Thom, and I would put SNL on my résumé. Also, when it would come time to get a script off the ground one day? I might need his help, but I wouldn't necessarily want it. I wanted to do it myself.


He did once say, Who do we know at Seinfeld?

It was more of a rhetorical question I never followed up on, probably for the same reason people throw away food.

Anyway. Like I said, here is a recommendation from Norm Macdonald. His brilliance was not in allowing me to write my own letter of commendation, nor condemnation. It was given to me not as a parting gift, but as a lasting present. Meaning, with this letter, my mission has always been clear: I am to use the privileges afforded to me to recommend other teenagers and college students -- not at Saturday Night Live -- but somewhere useful. Because of me -- because of Norm and Frank and Downey, plus Caryn and Thom, the friends I make now have SNL in their back pocket.  (2/8)





































By contrast, while college professors like to write their own letters of recommendation and others do it another way, here is some more unmarked stationery. In high school, I got in trouble a lot for ADHD-ing my way through classes, so I spent a lot of time in the Principal's office. (Actually, I spent very little time in the Principal's office. The Principal has district-wide concerns; s/he is dodging the Superintendent all day long. You only see the Principal when you do good things. When you do bad things, you see the Assistant Principal. In Smithtown, that was Mr. Edward Ehman. 

So, yeah. I spent way too much time in the Assistant Principal's office -- not enough time, according to some -- and it's not the inevitable one-on-one that eats you alive, it's the wait. It's waiting for the secretary (Hi, Ms. B) to show you in.

During those office hours, I managed to steal so much Smithtown High School stationery, and...for the love of God. 


I did so many thoughtful, awful, and selfless things with it. For more details, see me after class. (3/8)




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