People who are born into abject poverty don’t know how poor they are. Those of us who grew up well below the poverty level didn’t know what we didn’t have. I knew that I didn’t have nice clothes like the other kids at school, but I was oh, so happy when my beloved Grandmother pieced together some clothing for me from a big box of things she got from a second-hand store. And I was so very proud to wear the green polyester knit dress that she gave me – and didn’t really care that I wore that dress every day for three weeks. We got one pair of school shoes and one pair of church shoes, and it was a special trip indeed when we went to J.C. Penney to pick out those shoes.
I just knew that when I graduated high school, I did not want to stay. I wanted to go to the big college town in Lincoln, Nebraska, and make something of my life, so I didn’t have to stay in a loveless, dirty hovel in a town where our family was on the bottom rung of society and looked down upon by all the others. My father, a bitterly raging alcoholic, told me he would pay for a one-year course that enabled me to become a licensed practical nurse, like my sisters. Just no. I wanted nothing more than to study business. My oldest sister gave me her high school’s accounting class study kit, and I spent hours upon hours playing with those ledgers and pretending that I ran my own business. But nursing school? To this day, I think nurses have a God-given talent for helping others while they deal with blood and feces and dying and psychology, and I wanted nothing to do with that.
I worked three jobs at one time so I could go to college. Nobody in my family ever went to college, so this was a big deal for me. I was up at the crack of dawn to wash dishes in the dorm cafeteria, went to classes during the day, worked after class hours as a teacher’s assistant, and then worked evenings and nights in a Hilton Hotel coffee shop. And I was near the top of my class. My college roommate, Judy, came home crying hysterically one night because her wealthy parents did not buy her the new car that she wanted – they just bought her some other brand spankin’ new car in a color she hated. I will never forget that. I walked everywhere in Lincoln, Nebraska until I could graduate and make my own car payments. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. Judy was so used to having everything her heart desired just presented to her by wealthy parents, that it broke her heart not to get exactly what she wanted.
So now we have young college kids who are thrust into the limelight because their parents thought that the almighty dollar should buy their way into a prestigious college. These young adults, just like my college roommate Judy, expect that they will be given the best of everything. It didn’t really dawn on them that they might not get everything they wanted. There was no realization that they might have to study and work to earn entrance into the college of their choice. But I will bet that they were taught right from wrong. I will bet you they learned at a very early age about cheating. And now? Their parents have taught them the sad story about what happens if you get caught.
I don’t begrudge these kids their wealth. It was a very wise pastor of mine, Dr. Richard Eakins, who taught us that perhaps Christ’s own family was wealthy, and that we should be neither unhappy that we don’t have great wealth, nor should we show any indifference to those who have attained great wealth.
What matters is how the wealth was attained, and what price was paid to attain it. How many young adults attended elite colleges because they rode in on the coattails of their rich parents’ donations? I worked at a local university and I can tell you it happens all the time. If your parents are wealthy judges or lawyers or big donors? You most likely get a free ride. One local college motto is, “Pay your fee? Get your B.”
I learned not to be cheating when I was very small. As we sat at our metal desks in my little grade school, our teachers admonished us not to be looking at other peoples’ papers to answers. I still go to college in my sixties, just for the learning experience and to be around young people, and we are told point blank that if you are caught cheating you will be expelled. But who will expel the parents who cheat to get their kids in?