Sunday, June 2, 2019

Aunts, Honest Abe and Shameless Fraud

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


I had a special aunt growing up.  You know the profile: younger, cooler than your parents, actually listened to your problems and offered advice like she could remember the struggles of adolescence.  Unlike mom and dad, her default mode didn’t involve lecturing, judging or reprimanding.  She was kind and jovial, didn’t embarrass you around friends and didn’t make you earn a piece of cake by choking down vegetables. 

Okay, she wasn’t really my aunt – or just my aunt.  For anyone and everyone who viewed the television show “Full House” with any regularity, she was our Aunt Becky.

Last week, in one of those reality ruins fantasy moments or, more specifically, when the real person destroys the character, we learned that Lori Loughlin, the actor who played Aunt Becky, is a crook.  

Loughlin, it is alleged, is one of nearly three dozen wealthy parents who used the services of William Singer, miscreant college recruiter for the stars, to develop fraudulent applications and bribe school officials to ensure their otherwise undeserving children were granted admission to prestigious institutions across the country.  Aside from the dirty dollars that exchanged hands, the trust fund babies’ applications included doctored ACT and SAT scores and faked photos of the “students” playing lower-on-the-radar sports (rowing, soccer, volleyball, etc.) they had never actually participated in. 

Aunt Becky, how could you?

See if this sounds familiar: I had the good fortune of attending Towson State University (now just Towson University).  Mid-sized, state school.  Largely unknown to non-lacrosse fans outside the mid-Atlantic region.  A prestigious institution?  Not by any outside measure, but to me it is.  I got there based on my (modest) academic credentials and graduated because of my own sweat.  I did not play sports at Towson because…I wasn’t good enough.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.  You get in, play and graduate – or not – based on your own credentials, talent and willingness to work.  

It would be recklessly naïve, though, to think privilege and connections don’t influence the admissions process.  As Deep Throat said to The Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation, “Follow the money.”  Follow it indeed.  President Trump’s academic record and path to the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) is shrouded in mystery and former President George W. Bush’s stint at Yale and with the Texas Air National Guard is dubious at best.  But Loughlin and her associates were involved in blatant fraud, a do-whatever-it-takes – money, test scores, manufactured profiles – to get my child admitted because it is their right, their privilege.  The outrageous mentality values perceived entitlement because of economic or social standing over merit.  The audacity and arrogance is enraging, but not surprising. Still, it p----s me off!       

My fellow parents and guardians, see if this also sounds familiar: My oldest is in high school and is on the cusp of the college hunt.  It seems daunting, a vastly different and more complicated process than I remember.  My wife and I are worried.  Our festering anxiety is based on this unfortunate reality: the gap between those with and without an advanced education has widened even since we were roaming college campuses in the 1990s.  Good grades, strong standardized test scores, participation in a variety of extracurricular activities, volunteer work and endorsements are all part of constructing a strong candidacy.  Then there’s the financial aspect (something else that’s changed dramatically in the last 20 years) – determining what is affordable and locating and competing for scholarships. 

Competing…now there’s a word.  Just like when an umpire yells “play ball” or a referee tosses the ball up to start a basketball game, ultimately most parents and children (or those with any moral compass) just want an ability to compete fairly during the college admissions process.  We owe that to our children.  To think that more qualified candidates lost opportunities because of this criminal scheme is unconscionable.  Shame on all involved.  

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  It is a simple test that many powerful people have failed.  Aunt Becky is just the latest. 

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