So that's why my boys didn't get into Harvard...
Because the slots that should have gone to them were snapped up by the spawn of rich celebrities who bribed coaches to pretend their couch potatoes were athletes, and other venal acts of fraud and criminality.
A spot in a top college projects whoever snags it to the fast-track to success. But those exclusive colleges bat away 95 out of every 100 students who apply, forcing them through an obstacle course where all sorts of secondary hurdles besides academic excellence suddenly loom in importance. If the college has accepted kids from 49 states, and needs someone from South Dakota so they can boast students "from all 50 states," then suddenly South Dakotans go to the top of the stack. If the band needs a xylophonist, suddenly xylophonists start to sparkle. Not to mention all the attempts to create a diverse student body. As Orwell said in Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Not to forget money: they have to remember to let some students in whose parents can actually pay the tuition. For starters.
As Frank Bruni pointed out in Wednesday's New York Times, it isn't that much of a stretch from giving a college $2 million and having your kid waived in—legal!—to bribing a coach to pretend he's on the water polo team—illegal!
I don't want to excuse the underhanded tricks used by parents to try to jam their kids into the best colleges. It hasn't been so many years since my boys went through this, and I remember the frantic, what-can-I-do?!? approach to their quest.
|Harvard Lampoon (photo by Harrison Roberts)
He also counseled against the general, I'm-gonna-die tone of despair that parents bring to the process. That doesn't help. Important decisions, yes. Key forms and essays and hoops to leap through or, often, not. But the whole upper echelon college thing is also a framework of values that is only of vast importance if you believe it is of vast importance. Donald Trump went to the Wharton School, and look how he turned out.
Oh, and the boys didn't get into Harvard because neither of them applied. I can't speak for them, but that might be my fault. We visited Cambridge when they were in their mid-teens, and I steered us over to the Harvard Lampoon castle, a quirky building supposedly paid for by William Randolph Hearst and designed as kind of Dutch revival sphinx. I explained how, while researching my pranks book, I had spent a few days there happily poring over their archives, and what fine fellows the Lampooners were.
Our timing was off. We arrived during some kind of Bacchic revel—maybe because it was Friday. A round metal pool had been set up in front of the castle, students were splashing around in it, drunk, and firing off fireworks. My boys were aghast. We fled.
Just as well. The older boy went to Pomona, a liberal college in California routinely ranked higher than Harvard. And the younger boy went to Northwestern, applying early admission, because that's where his dad went. Bribes were not necessary.