Ladies and Gentlemen,
You don’t know me, and you never will. That, I suppose, is what this whole issue comes down to, really: who will get to be “known” for their work and education, and who will remain in obscurity. So I suppose an introduction is in order.
My name is Scott Huggins. In 1992, I graduated from Wichita High School South. I was born into a middle-class family, where both my parents worked. My father was an aerospace engineer and my mother was an elementary school teacher.
I graduated with National Merit Scholarship, which I had earned by virtue of scoring something like 224 (I don’t remember exactly) out of the then-perfect 240 points on the PSAT. My SAT score was 1510 (a perfect score was 1600 in 1992) and my ACT score was 33. These scores were mine. I earned them fairly, and by dint of much study, practice, and the aid of some half-dozen books and the coaching efforts of my public school’s college counselor.
You see, I had been told that study and hard work, coupled with intelligence, could get me into any school in the nation. And I believed that. I went through the process of applying to Georgetown, which was my dream school because of its academy of Foreign Service. I wanted to be a diplomat. I wrote, as I recall, at least six separate essays.
And I got in. I want you to understand that, because I’m not quite sure that any of you grasp what that means: I got in on my own merit. I did what you had to pretend to the world that your children are capable of.
But the problem, you see, is that the National Merit Scholarship that I won was only $2000 per semester. $2000, matched against the cost of a Georgetown education which was, at that time, $20,000 per year for tuition alone. I called Georgetown and asked what merit scholarships were available there. And I listened as they explained that no such things existed. Only need-based scholarships would be offered, and the only people considered to have genuine “need” were those in abject poverty. I remember being taken through the formulas and having it explained to me that, according to Georgetown, my parents should have no problem expending over a third of their combined salaries on my education.
I remember my father sitting me down and explaining – and he hardly needed to: as should be evident by now, I was not stupid – that this was impossible. And of course it was. I remember him bitterly saying that perhaps the best thing he could do for his children would be to quit his job and begin drinking himself to death. That would have established “need,” after all. Or I could have taken on about $100,000 in student debt.
So I did not go to Georgetown. Instead, someone like your children went to Georgetown. Someone whose scores were paid for, whose essays were paid for, and whose tuition was paid for, so that they could be our country’s leaders. I wonder if that person is a Congressman, or a Senator, or a bestselling author because of the connections they made. And I wonder if, without people like you, there might have been merit scholarships for me. Because the qualified pool of students would assuredly have been much smaller. I will, of course, never know. Because I went to Kansas State University. Both it and the University of Kansas offered me full rides because of the National Merit Scholarship I had earned.
At Kansas State University I received excellent opportunities and a good education. I got to know some brilliant professors. I was able to do two years abroad, studying for one year in Russia and for another year in Germany. I ended up graduating with only about $6000 of debt, which put me ahead of the game. I went on to get a Master of Arts at Michigan State University, where I earned another fellowship. That education cost me nothing but my efforts.
In time, I came to see that the opportunities and lessons that I learned at Kansas State were at least the equal of those that I would have learned at Georgetown. There, I could never have taken two years to explore the world. I would have been locked into that course of study. I suppose the power and credentials I missed at Georgetown are also gone, and they will never come again. Even so, I would not trade them for the experiences I did forge in my travels. No, not for the world.
I wonder if you understand yet what this is about. You see, it’s not about me being cheated out of what I earned, though you and those like you surely did that. It’s about the fact that you have cheated, not me, but your own children, out of the knowledge and experiences that are now mine. They will never know that they could have won admission to Georgetown on their own. They will never know what it is like to explore the world by their own power and merits. They will never really have an education. Because you have ensured that they will never really need one. You have bought your children credentials, and you have sold their self-knowledge, their earned merit, and their true experience of the world they live in. Socrates would have said that you only damage their souls and yours by your behavior, but then, neither you nor they will ever have read Socrates. And for that I pity them. For that, they should curse you. Unfortunately, neither you nor they are likely ever to understand why.
So I do not curse you for depriving me and those like me of our educations. You cannot take education from those truly determined to have it. Because we educate ourselves wherever we are – or we fail to – every day. And your incomprehension of that earns not my anger, but my contempt. No, what earns my anger is that you have taken those credentials from young men and women who would have earned them, and placed the power that comes with them in the hands of little minds. Minds forever stunted and shrunken because you would not allow them the failure and the effort needed to grow them. Much like the “athletic” scholarships you also bought, given in the name of bodies that never needed to grow as strong as the athletes they pretended to be would have. And the power that you have given, unearned, unwept for, untrained for, will determine the course of our nation. You will influence what you do not understand in place of all of us who understand what we will never influence. This nation, for whom generations of my ancestors toiled, sweated, and bled: for this nation you and your children not only show contempt, you will contemptuously direct it until either you or it – or, God help us, both – will come to ruin. Because they will not have the education or the experience to do otherwise. For that, unless you repent, may you be damned.
I cherish no illusion that you will. I cherish no illusion that you will ever read this letter. You pay people to keep you and your children safe from the truth. God, how sad is that? You do not believe in damnation, you do not believe in God, and most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, you do not believe in people like me. You do not believe we are people at all. Not real people. We are only your audience. The unwashed masses whose very purpose is to cheer you on and buy what you sell us. This letter is, in the final analysis, not really for you, unless you by some miracle really do choose to change. It’s for those like me who will recognize themselves in this. It is for those of us who earned their own way, whether or not we ever got to travel it. Those of us who worked our own jobs. Those who read their own books. Those who wrote their own papers. Those who really learned. Those of us who did must remember that we will always have what you have taken from your own children: ability and knowledge of what is real.
One last word, and this to you children, who have found yourselves in college by such means: I do not blame you, especially you poor souls who were told that you had won your places by your own merits. You are not to blame for your parents’ sins. I don’t even particularly blame you children who knew what was going on, and cheated anyway. I can at least say that I know I would not have cheated – at least, not as I am. But if I had been raised by your parents, and had these things explained to me as being just what was my due and how the world works, I might well have done so. You are not as innocent, but you are even more to be pitied. At least those who were ignorant were not told that cheating and lies were what education was all about.
No, the blame lies with your parents. Make no mistake: you and they have taken the education that people like me earned fairly. Neither I nor they will never know what the cost of that was. But justice will come to you. It always does. In the most profound sense, it already has.
What do I want you to do? I sincerely doubt that anyone who should be asking that question has read this far. But in case you have, I ask only this:
Parents, repent. I mean that. Confess your guilt. Admit it without excuse or bargaining. Accept the consequences freely. And then, when that is over, spend the same money you spent to get your own children into a top-ranked college to give someone in my position a scholarship. A merit scholarship. A scholarship that can be earned by anyone – ANYONE – who applies. And see that it is given fairly. That is what you should do.
Students, repent. Go to your deans and confess what happened. Admit it without excuse or bargaining. Accept the consequences freely. Go to a different school if you have to. One you can earn your way into. If your parents can still pay for that, by all means let them. There’s no shame in that: it’s what honest parents do for their children if they can.
And if you can stay in the school you’re in? Then learn. Make the most of those opportunities. Don’t slack off. Don’t pay others to do the work you have been trusted to do. We’re all counting on you. Be worthy of it.
And I hope you enjoy our education.