Back in 1993, there was a TV movie called, “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.” The plot of the story was this: Wanda Halloway tried to hire a hit man to kill both a cheerleader and her mother. If Wanda could at least murder the cheerleader, there would be a vacancy on the cheerleader squad, giving her own daughter, Shanna, an opportunity to make the squad.
You might think that this movie could only come from the wild imagination of a Hollywood writer or director. But it happens to be a true, begging us to ask this question: What extreme measures are parents willing to take, morally or immorally, to ensure that their child is on the cheerleading squad, chosen to be the captain of the football team, is on the honor roll every semester, or is selected for an Ivy League school?
For the last few weeks, we’ve heard story after story about the College Bribery Scandal. Alana Durkin Richer, from the Associated Press wrote, “In this scandal, parents are accused of paying admission consultant Rick Singer to rig standardized test scores and bribe college coaches and other insiders to get their children into selective schools. Coaches at schools, including Yale University and the University of Southern California, are also charged with accepting bribes. … Parents will likely try to stay out of prison by arguing they believed they were doing what was best for their children and have already been punished enough by being publicly humiliated and losing their jobs, attorneys say.”
Should we, as common abiding citizens, sympathize and empathize with these Hollywood, millionaire or billionaire parents who only wanted what “was best for their children,” or should we seek justice for the thousands of honest students who were denied access into these colleges and universities because they played by the rules, and for one reason or another, didn’t qualify for these colleges in question?
Since I am a Catholic priest, and not a parent, I can only imagine the pressure a father and mother go through as they try and pave the “road to success” for their children by making sure that their children do their best in school to have every “door of opportunity” open for them throughout life.
Sarah Graves, a writer and teacher of English and humanities at colleges, had an article in the USA where she wrote, “Getting into college has become so filled with anxiety and perceived high stakes that many parents who are not wealthy spend their kids’ childhood stressing about grades and over-stuffing their activity schedules, trying to ensure that their kids get into the so-called best universities. This is because many a parent has bought into the idea that entrance into an elite college or university is a golden ticket to success. But is it? Research has consistently shown that it actually might not be:
“A 2011 research by Stacy Berg Dale of the Mellon Foundation states that it’s the student, not the school that makes all the difference. Students who work hard and take advantage of college opportunities — including independent projects, research and internships — and who work on developing their creativity, adaptability and ingenuity will succeed no matter where they go to school. On the other hand, if students don’t focus on developing career-applicable skills, even the fanciest degree can’t create a successful life for them.”
I don’t know about you, but I believe today’s children and young adults have a better chance at succeeding in life as soon as they realize that receiving a C+ in school through hard work, blood, sweat and tears is more honorable than receiving an A+ through lying, cheating and stealing. I’m also confident that graduating from schools like Yale, Harvard or Princeton definitely look good on one’s resume; but is it possible for a graduate from any of these schools to live with a good conscience the rest of his or her life, if, they entered into or graduated from that Ivy League school illegally, immorally or unethically?
Whenever I think of parents who want what is best for their children in this life and in the life to come, I cannot help but think of the gospel verses where the Mother of Zebedee’s Sons approached the Lord: “At that time the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling before Him, and asking something from Him. He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to him, ‘Speak the word that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand, and one on Your left, in your Kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup which I have to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can.’” Matthew 20:20-22
The Mother of the sons of Zebedee was not in any way trying to get her sons into heaven through any bribery or dishonest means; she just wanted the Lord to assure her that once her sons entered into heaven, they would have a place of honor, one on Jesus’ right and the other one on His left. Jesus could have comforted the Mother of Zebedee’s sons by saying something like this, “Don’t worry — my Father and I will make sure that your sons will be able to sit in a place of honor there in heaven.” He could have said that, but he didn’t.
On the contrary, Jesus challenged the sons of Zebedee, James and John, by stating that if they wanted to enter into heaven, they were going to have to drink from the cup which He had to drink. And what was that cup? It was a cup of suffering; it was cup of sacrifice; it was a cup of death or martyrdom. Jesus challenged James and John that if they truly wanted a place of honor in the kingdom of heaven, they couldn’t have that place of honor handed down to them on a silver platter; they were going to have to “run the good race and fight the good fight” every step of the way.
May this story about James and John remind all parents that if they want their children to succeed in this life and have a place of honor in heaven, their children will have to enter the race, not through any bribery or scam, but legally, morally and ethically. And how come? Because there is only one way to the top, to the kingdom of heaven, and that is through Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life!
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.