My Take On Operation Varsity Blues & What College Education Means to Me

On Tuesday morning, my phone alarm went off in all of its shrilly glory accompanied by a short, distinct ping.

With a quick swipe, I opened up a news app notification alerting me to a breaking story involving Lori Laughlin (or better known as Aunt Becky on the beloved TV series “Full House”) along with her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, the designer behind Target’s Mossimo clothing line, and a slew of other affluential people who were caught for involvement in what's now being called the nation's largest college admissions scandal.

If you haven’t been following the unfolding story, here’s what to know. A prosecution coined Operation Varsity Blues charged 50 individuals for their involvement in what is considered the “Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution,” according to The New York Times. The pool of individuals charged include celebrities, athletic coaches and prominent business leaders, among others. Over the past few days, there have been several developments such as bail postings and case hearings, but those few details are the foundation of the still-developing story.

When news first broke, I was neither surprised nor angry. I was simply disappointed.

The college admissions scandal that has been swarming headlines the last few days is no big shock to me (sadly). The real kicker of the story isn’t in the act of wealthy individuals slipping hefty donations into the pockets of admissions personnel who have turned a blind eye, but instead, it’s about the societal idea that individuals of “higher status” feel entitled to anything they desire (or are told to desire) and will sabotage another student’s opportunity simply because they can. 

As I skimmed the words of that first article brought to my attention, I immediately felt a disheartening surge of disappointment, but I also felt frustration bubble up within my chest. I grew disappointed over the actions of the individuals charged, the state of education in our country and the way those who are wealthy or influential often swerve around necessary steps because they feel entitled or protected enough to follow through with these types of actions without repercussions.

And in this case where several individuals have been charged and are facing serious accusations, many (or all) of those involved will be able to pay, talk or simply walk out of the situation because of their name which carries reputation and funds. This is the way these things usually go, at least.

While still lying in bed with sunshine casting rays on my bed sheets, I considered the role college plays in my own life. From the first moment I could understand the concept of college, I held it as this treasured goal in my mind. The idea of college manifested into this golden hour for me –– something to wait for, something entirely spectacular, something that makes you see the world just a bit differently. The several years leading up to college application season and the long-awaited arrival to a campus were filled with days bursting with commitments and an acting balance between academics and extracurriculars. The days blended into each other –– hours of focused attention in class, endless afternoons participating in extracurriculars, evenings completing homework behind my wooden desk at home. Now, I am poised to wrap up my second year, and I continue to view higher education as significant and something that I have great respect for.

I was always the child who looked forward to school (even despite the anxiety I would get around the start of new school years), and, even more than that, I was determined to educate myself because I was raised to regard an education as the single most prized possession someone could have. And that does not mean a traditional education experience is the only way to become educated and aware of the happenings of our world –– if anything it is only one way to go about it.

My siblings and I are the children of individuals who sought brighter lives in a country starkly different from their own. The tales of hardship and sacrifice are not new, but they are important and are what continuously invigorate me to build my individuality as someone who values an education. Maybe this skews my perspective on education. Maybe I take the privilege to attend school to better myself and grow as an individual too seriously. But for me, education is everything. Because of this, I do believe everyone who wishes to attend school has the right to do that, but it has to be while wandering down the path of what is just. Everyone must undergo the same process to attend higher education and must be treated as equals no matter their background, family or net worth. Education is far too precious to taint with instances such this scandal.

As you can probably tell by now, my background and family have instilled and encouraged my passion for the pursuit of education, especially as a first-generation student. In a recent tweet, journalist Ana Kasparian cleanly articulated my exact thoughts when she said, “Here’s what’s awesome about being the child of immigrants, or a kid who grew up in poverty: the fire it instills in you. The hunger for more. The unwavering drive from knowing you HAVE to succeed based on hard work. Because you don’t have rich parents to buy your way to success.” I think that deserves quite a few clapping hands emojis.

It’s moments like these that I truly question the established institutions that proclaim their main focus is to provide fair opportunities to students who seek a well-rounded education. The scandal has cemented all of the hushed stereotypes and rumors that we (at least me) have hoped weren’t true or as prevalent as they may seem. But, if this scam is any indication, the practice of wealthy families paying for their children’s entry into a school is happening. No doubt about that.

This whole situation has really dampened my respect for institutions that feed into this complete disregard of morals and respect to students who spend their lives working toward their goals. It also makes me think about how devastating it is to consider the thought that maybe someone’s spot was ripped away from them simply because they didn’t provide a hefty donation or have a well-known name attached to their application.

On Twitter, NowThis posted a video featuring author Anand Giridharadas talking about the true story behind the scandal, which involves Bill McGlashan. In the video, Giridharadas said, “Those parents wanted a guarantee that a bribe to a coach or a guy taking an SAT test would lock a seat for their child and that no child in America, no matter how meritorious, no matter what odds they’d overcome, no child in America or around the world would be able to compete for that seat.” And this is what is most troubling to me about the entire situation.

In the end, this has reminded me that we must do better. As a society of individuals each carrying dreams, goals and aspirations, we must remind ourselves to be fair and just. To not cut corners just because you can. Your net worth and name should not slash someone else’s opportunity to an education.