It’s probably not big in the news elsewhere, but Boston being Boston and Harvard being Harvard, the news that Harvard has rescinded the admissions offers of ten high school seniors because of the offensive memes they have posted on a Facebook chat site is, well, news.
Harvard had, it seems, set up a Facebook page for those who’d gotten early acceptances in December. Not surprisingly, a lot of kids glommed right on to meet their fellow classmates and, of course, to preen about their having beaten out a ton of really smart kids: Harvard accepts a higher percentage of early admissions applicants than it does applicants from the general pool (14.5 percent vs. 5.2 percent), but any way you look at it: most kids don’t get in.
Some of these kids probably got the legacy lift; or the parent-as-donor lift (c.f., Jared Kushner); or the no-one-else-applied-from-Moosejaw, Wyoming lift; or the St. Grottlesex jock lift – the sorts of lifts that put them a nose ahead of all those indistinguishable smart kids with great grades, great SATs, great recommendations, great extra-curriculars. But those lifts only get you so far. If you were accepted to Harvard, you’re more than likely “smart.”
But, as my husband use to say, there are an awful lot of dumb smart people out there. And surely the Harvard Ten are among their ranks.
Anyway, over time, the FB page/chat/whatever produced an offshoot group that its founders dubbed “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”
These are children of the social media era. Facebook was founded in 2004, Twitter in 2006, when these kids were in primary school. So they’ve come of age adeptly at using social media. But I guess they were too busy grade grubbing, taking SAT classes, and participating in activities they didn’t give a hoot about but which the outside college application advisors their parents had no doubt hired advised would look good on their applications, to notice that a lot of students were getting into a lot of trouble for what they were showing or telling on social media.
A bunch of kids in Massachusetts were criminally charged after a girl they’d bullied committed suicide. Some college guys lost job offers because of a stupid video they posted – can’t remember if it was racist, sexist, or both. These are just a couple that come to mind, but there are plenty of real life examples out there. (Hell, haven’t these kids been paying any attention to POTUS and the pitfalls of Twitter.) And, we’ve been told, students are “educated”on the appropriate use of social media.
Then there’s the Miranda that Harvard (and most other schools) give to the kids they accept: this offer is contingent on your grades holding up for the rest of the year, and your not doing something criminal or immoral – or something cringe-worthy enough to make us have second thoughts about having tendered one of our precious acceptance offers to you.
The memes that were posted were pretty coarse. Jokes about oral sex, religious Jews, and gas chambers. Jokes about getting turned on by child abuse. Jokes about Mexican kids hanging themselves in the school bathroom. (Ho, ho!)
A bunch of kids trying to out-gross each other and, in the process, demonstrating their complete and utter lack of maturity, their stunningly poor judgment, and their stone stupidity to think (or not think) that this wouldn’t get noticed and, if noticed, that it wouldn’t matter.
There are now ten homes in which parents are some combination of rip-shit at Harvard (how could they?), rip-shit at their kids (how could you?), lawyering up, scrambling for a gap year program in which to insert their kid, placing frantic calls to the admissions consultant they thought they were done with, gritting their teeth when someone asks them about their Harvard-bound genius offspring, calling the caterer to cancel the graduation party, etc. And there are ten kids who are some combination of rip-shit at Harvard (how could they?), rip-shit at the kids they followed into this FB slough of despond (how could they?), and maybe (for the more reflective ones) rip-shit at themselves (how could I?). They’re embarrassed. They’re humiliated. They’re depressed. They’re wondering what next. They’re wondering whether, if they reapply and use “what I learned by getting caught posting coarse memes” as their essay topic, they can mea culpa their way in.
What a mess.
I’m not a free-speecher here. Harvard has every right to decide they don’t want these kids in their incoming class. My cousin the guidance counselor (retired) thinks it was a good decision. I think that Harvard might have used this as a “teachable moment” and deferred these kids for a year, during which they needed to demonstrate that they were Harvard-worthy.
But Harvard is certainly within its rights, and I’m not going to lose any sleep over these kids who won’t get to use those phony humble bragging rights (“I go to college in Cambridge…”), who won’t get to meet Malia Obama at parties, who won’t get to go through life with most people thinking they’re plenty smart because Harvard said so. These kids have demonstrated that they’re a bunch of infantile jerks. Not that there won’t be plenty of infantile jerks in the Harvard Class of 2021, if past history is any predictor of the future. But here’s some advice to those kids: Smarten up. You really don’t want to go through life as a dumb smart person.