I grew up in a blue collar town. Most of the adults I knew as a kid were farmers or factory workers. They sweated to earn their paychecks, which were usually just barely enough to pay the bills. Like others who grew up in this type of gritty, dirt-under-the-fingernails environment, I carry a chip on my shoulder toward people who are given things they didn’t earn.

Whether it’s a kid placed on a varsity team because his dad happens to be a coach, a person given a job without any qualifications, or the news that broke last week about parents allegedly paying bribes to get their kids into elite universities, it’s a slap in the face to every person who works hard and has an opportunity stolen from them. That’s the issue here — when someone cheats a process to get something handed to them, it takes away the spot from someone who deserves it.

As Alan Dershowitz, a former professor at Harvard Law School, wrote in an article, “The real victims in this purported bribery scandal were qualified students who worked hard and earned high grades and test scores in high school, but were in some cases denied admission to top universities because the children of wealthy parents improperly took their places.”

We all want to do what’s best for our kids and give them opportunities we never had, but there’s a line most of us don’t cross — bribery and cheating. According to charges and allegations that have unfolded, dozens of wealthy parents paid large bribes or fostered cheated on ACT tests to get their kids into elite colleges. This goes to show the premium placed on attending top universities.

Two years ago, my family went through the college application process for our older son. He applied to some elite colleges, including one now embroiled in the cheating scandal. He didn’t get in.

Many of his friends and other Shakopee graduates we knew from previous classes also applied to elite colleges. They had top grades, top ACT scores, leadership experience, and everything else the colleges claim they look for in applications. None of them got into their top choices. It’s worth noting that they did get accepted into and attended good schools, just not the high-caliber ones like Yale or Stanford that are accused in the pay-for-play scheme.

There are myriad reasons for being denied of course, with a primary one being a very limited number of seats and a whole lot of applicants. Athletes and legacy students gobble up some of those spots, and now, if the bribery allegations prove true, we’re learning that a rigged system let in unqualified students over qualified ones. This means the odds that Shakopee graduates would get accepted into the best schools were even slimmer.

There are no winners in this scenario. Some students who allegedly got into colleges because of their parents’ ability to write six- or seven-figure checks have now dropped out or are facing expulsion. Elite universities’ reputations will take a huge hit. Applicants who didn’t get accepted are filing lawsuits, alleging they were denied a fair opportunity because of a dishonest process. Some students who did get accepted are also suing, claiming their degrees are now devalued by the scandal.

On a personal level, I think of the brilliant and talented Shakopee graduates who could have done amazing things at those colleges, but never got the chance while alleged cheaters did.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

South regional editor

Deena is the regional editor for Shakopee, Jordan, Prior Lake and Savage and is passionate about uncovering the truth. Deena also enjoys gardening, playing tennis and up-cycling furniture.

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