April Bench Talk: "Who Do You Want to Be?"

In early March we heard about a scam called Operation Varsity Blues.  Most of the Upper School has probably heard about it.  For the Middle School students who might not know, this news story is about how the FBI cracked thelargest college admissions scam in history.  A scam is a fraud or a dishonest scheme. More than 50 people in very respectable jobs lied, cheated on tests, and helped create false documents to gain admission to what they consider to be the most elite colleges in the country.  The adults involved in this cheating scandal range from parents, to SAT proctors, to coaches, and directors of athletics.  Most, but not all of the students involved, knew they were participating in creating applications with false information.

Many people who heard about this story were horrified at the illegal actions people engage in to gain admission to the college of their choice.

Why would the people involved in this case be willing to give up their good name, possibly forever? For some of these people whose faces and names have been plastered all over the news, their names might be permanently tainted.  This includes, for example, a junior at Georgetown who publically boasted about cheating on the SATs, long before the FBI found out about it. Since the case came to light, she has been kicked out of Georgetown and will have a hard time getting into any college after this. Her good name is damaged.  


WATCH: Headmaster Peter Caldwell's March Bench Talk


Hopefully she will embrace the truth and turn this crucible moment into work that will help her move past her unlawful actions. 

There are two aspects of this case that I find particularly tragic.

First - that those involved felt, for a variety of reasons, that there are only a few, acceptable choices for college– that somehow, they will be judged poorly if they do not choose a specific, elite college that, in their mind, will lead down a specific path.

The other tragedy is that these parents did not seem to trust the ability of their own children to gain acceptance into a college or university that they deemed worthy.

In light of the college process and all of the paths ahead of you, today I want you to reflect for a moment on what you want for yourself. Does your ultimate vision include anything about fulfillment and self-satisfaction?   Are values a part of your ultimate vision?

Here are four things that I encourage you to do:

Be an independent thinker as you determine the things that give you gratification. Do not believe that the most widely-known or highly touted path is the only path for you.  

Have goals - but do not be dictated by them to the extent where you may compromise your values. 

Play up your strengths, but do not be limited by them. 

And finally - occasionally allow yourself to embrace a meandering path.

This may seem like a stretch, but bear with me.  I am going to show you a video of a teenager whose name is Kratu.  He was rescued from Romania when he was just a few weeks old.

In this video, Kratu enters a competition where things are done a certain way, but he goes his own way at his own pace, and he seems to see the checkpoints in the competition as suggestions rather than mandatory steps. 


Let me be clear that this does not mean that I am encouraging you not to work hard or ignore your responsibilities. Instead, occasionally embrace your own movements that might be independent from what everyone else is doing.

Obviously, there are certain things you must do to pave the way for your lives after MBS, but while you embrace these responsibilities—when appropriate—work to think on your own.  

This is what Kratu’s adopted mother says about him:  “As a teenager, he was incredibly hard to train! He really loves to please me but mostly he wants to please himself!”

So I hope that you can see the connection between these two, seemingly disparate messages.

As we head into the final months of the year, work hard to be true to yourself. Find rooms or activities or classes or spaces that make you more yourself.  Do not lose track of who you are and always protect your good name.  As I recommended in my February Bench Talk – always speak the truth. Speaking the truth matters, for it defines who you are and will help you discover your own, unique path.


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