My best friend from high school and I were both accepted to Ivy League schools. We declined. We both received substantial scholarships, so it wasn’t the money. But we felt more comfortable attending schools close to our rural Pennsylvania homes with both family and friends nearby. But more important, we did not feel that attending an Ivy League school would make any difference in our lives. And we were right. Both us did fine in our respective careers.
But 45 years later, America has changed and getting into an elite school has become an obsession for America’s wealthy and upper middle class. Our kids are tortured with SAT prep courses, diarrhea contracted during some Third World humanitarian project and personal coaches trying to turn them into world class lacrosse players. Thus, it is not surprising that a recent scandal has unearthed a ring of corrupt coaches, mercenary SAT takers and unscrupulous test correctors dedicated to gaming the system.
Attending an elite school makes entry into America’s Ruling Class much easier. Having Harvard or Yale on your resume greases the skids to becoming a corporate chieftain, federal judge, head of a major bureaucracy, influential journalist or major politician. All the presidents since Reagan, including President Trump, have attended Ivy League schools. Every Supreme Court justice went to an Ivy League law school. Many of our Wall Street uber wealthy have Harvard Business School or Wharton on their resume.
But most people who attend elite schools never become super successful. Studies have shown that those who decline admission to Ivy League schools have similar income levels to those who attend, indicating that America is still a meritocracy that rewards intelligence and ambition regardless of background. The chemicals in the organic chemistry lab at Yale react the same way as those at Housatonic Community College. So why are so many of our citizens not only obsessed with overpaying for an elite school, but willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to cheat to gain admission.
The answer is social status. Nothing turns heads at a cocktail party like mentioning you daughter just got into Princeton. Wealth may buy you a 6,000-square-foot house, a condo in Manhattan, a Mercedes Benz, Alessandro Demesure shoes and Hermes alligator purse, but for the Me Generation, nothing validates self-importance like one’s child at an elite school.
The skeptical reader has only to witness the outrage showered upon the perpetrators. Actress Lori Loughlin is accused of paying $500,000 bribes to have their two daughters perceived as recruits for the crew team of the University of Southern California. Apparently neither girl knows how to row. For this supposedly heinous crime, she had to post $1 million in bail and surrender her passport! Such treatment is usually reserved for axe murderers.
America needs to chill. Our kids will do fine no matter where they go to school, as long as they have a work ethic and we don’t allow the socialists now leading the Democratic Party wreck the country. Besides, as my high school buddy and I have discovered, if you want to really impress people, tell them that you received an Ivy League acceptance but rejected it. Not only this will this enhance your social status, but you can brag you saved your parents a few bucks and avoided being brainwashed by liberal trustafarian professors.
Joe Bentivegna is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.
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