Unless you were on a media hiatus, you probably heard about the college admissions scandal—experts hired to cheat on tests, coaches bribed to recruit non-athletes, and parents shelling out millions to secure seats at selective colleges for their children. It all sounds unreal.
I’m trying to imagine the slippery slope that allows this type of fraud and deception to happen. As a parent and mentor to many students I understand the desire to witness their success. I delight in the texts I receive from my students sharing good news about a test they aced, a game they won or a college admission they received. I also receive plenty of the other texts too, “lost election for student body VP :(“ “deferred to MIT” or “rejected to Stanford.” It hurts. I have been there both as a student and a parent. But some of my greatest moments working with students is seeing them rise above this external rejection and find mastery and purpose in their own path to success. As you all know, it makes them stronger and more capable of handling life’s twists and turns.
So, no, I can’t imagine the point in which stepping over the line becomes the only perceived path forward. These parents set their children up for failure, and not only because they got caught. But they sent a clear message that they didn’t think their child was capable of overcoming a rejection. And they, themselves didn’t want the insecurity, the risk of potential rejection. Singer states it best as quoted in the affidavit, “parents want a sure thing.”
This scandal angers me for many reasons. It angers me as I look in my daughter’s room and see the pile of slick brochures of smiling students under golden leafed trees that promise “Start Here, Go Further,” “Imagine,” “From Here to Anywhere.” I wish colleges would take the money spent on attracting applicants (who they will likely reject) and on hiring large number of admissions readers (because, yay, applications are up!), and instead spend it on academic, social and emotional well-being programs on campus. I wish we could get rid of rankings that focus on too few schools. I wish students didn’t have to make that tough Early Decision decision.
But I can’t control colleges and their need to raise billions or to create vague lofty slogans to stay relevant and in the top 100 to survive. In times like these, I remind myself to stay focused on what I can control and what my families can control—our own integrity in the process, our support of each of our children in uncovering their beautiful uniqueness—whether it is a student that marvels at supernovas, or spends hours perfecting the electric guitar or talks to friends late into the night through a stressful situation. We can provide tools and tutors to help our students lean into their interest in theater and epidemiology or move past mental blocks in physics or a fast pitch. We can model a growth mentality in the face of challenges, and we can have faith that our children are also capable of facing rejections and reapplying themselves, and in the process becoming stronger.
When I start the writing process with my students, many tell me they don’t have any interesting stories to tell. “My life is pretty boring,” one student confided. But in the process of their Values or Objects exercises or their one minute of “what I love” exercise, their stories emerge. They discover that their lives, in the small moments are alive with detail and significance.
Rather than the name of a college, it is these small moments, these daily decisions to do the right thing, that create the character that make great leaders, citizens, parents and children.