Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A puzzling incident

While in the hypnagogic state recently, I recalled something that happened as I started my freshman year in college. A recent Harvard graduate got accepted to Swarthmore, telling the admissions office that he had been in the army to account for his years after high school. (I'm not sure how he dealt with letters of recommendation and what might have seemed a strange transcript request to his high school. Evidently it didn't occur to them to ask for his service record.) He lived in a dormitory and attended classes for a few weeks before they discovered the ruse. Alas, I don't remember the dude's name.

I actually met him during freshman orientation. We were on the sidelines of an event we both obviously found bemusing, specifically folk dancing, so I tried to strike up a conversation. He was aloof, understandably. I mean, he doesn't want to get to know people and then have them start asking him about army life, of which he is utterly ignorant. People who had classes with him remarked that he seemed exceptionally well prepared.

There was no e-mail back then, which is what colleges use today to inform the community about weird shit like this. The deans issued a statement of some sort and there was a brief item in the student newspaper -- necessarily brief because how much is there to say? The grapevine had it that his explanation was that he wanted to write a book. That would be impossible, I should think, without massively violating people's privacy and trust, and demonstrating himself to be an asshole.

I imagine we all fantasize about going back and doing it over knowing what we know now. He probably imagined himself impressing the freshman girls with his maturity and erudition, acing all the courses, dominating the dormitory bull sessions. But surely he didn't expect to follow through on this for four years, graduate summa cum laude and be the commencement speaker, while having to keep his secret from everybody he knew. How he swung this financially in the first place is also a mystery. He must have had a trust fund.

Presumably Swarthmore and Harvard communicated about this, which would create a problem for him if anybody requested his Harvard transcript. That would no doubt keep him out of graduate school but would probably not be a problem for employment. In my life, no employer has ever requested a transcript from me at any level, and that includes my current position as university faculty, no less. So he probably pretty much got away with it. I don't think they tried to prosecute him.

Anyway, it was strange. Anybody have a clue what was in the guy's mind?


Don Quixote said...

Weird story. Not sure I understand about his ostensible reason for being there to write a book? But I do know this: it's so much harder to get away with that type of thing in the digital age. That said, the Dept. of Homeland Security has no idea what it's doing when it comes to crossing the border. And the people in charge of tracking down all the "up-to-no-gooders" are the ones at the sophisticated computers. So we're as ignorant and flawed as a species as we've ever been, yet we seem to think we're smarter or more powerful because of our toys. And that scares me.

Cervantes said...

Maybe it's harder, but this guy got into Harvard and attended for 2 years based on a completely fraudulent application. Still, that makes more sense in terms of motive -- he actually didn't have a Harvard degree yet.