The Rich You Will Always Have Among You
Listen to “The Rich You Will Always Have Among You” by Fred Smith
Like others, I have been disappointed by corrupt wealthy parents and coaches finding a way around the system by helping a scoundrel open the “side door” to admissions to elite colleges and universities. I don’t think anyone familiar with admissions was shocked by the fact that it happens. We have had various forms of favoritism and rule-bending for many years: Scholarships and loyal alumni boosters making under the table payments to athletes, deals for parents of valuable recruits, and prestigious awards given to major donors for little more than writing large checks. While it clearly points the finger at the lengths to which some rich people will go to ensure their kids (worthy or not) getting into elite schools, I think the rage about the rich and famous is a distraction. Unless this is, as some predict, the tip of the iceberg and there is proof that this reaches further down into the system than a few “dirty” officials and consultants, I choose to believe this is, sadly, how some of the rich have always operated. It is not considered criminal as much as clever. It is not about finding the best school for education but securing the right gene pool and connections for junior.
What troubles me is how it encourages us to rant about the few who have abused the system and ignore the many working hard getting into school and graduating. They are not looking for networks, brand or cache. They are striving for the lift education promises. They are not kids with “snowplow” parents who remove every obstacle to their happiness. They are young women and men holding two or more jobs just to pay the tuition and expenses. That is why I want to keep my eyes on the majority of students and parents who play by the rules, take their chances and still believe clever is just another word for cheat. Yes, we will always have the rich among us acting only from their own self-interest but there are so many others earning their way who inspire us.
Our young waitress at lunch seemed overly concerned about everything being just right. It wasn’t irritating or intrusive. It didn’t interrupt the conversation. It wasn’t the feeling of being rushed through lunch to open up the table for another waiting customer. It was a genuine interest in doing a good job, but she didn’t seem at ease about it.
As I said, she didn’t distract from the conversation and that was the main point of the lunch. My friend and I had both served on local committees for evaluating charitable requests, and we were comparing notes about the various tools we used to make sure those gifts meet certain standards. You would have recognized all the words – accountability, impact, outcomes, overhead, sustainability. My friend may be the most rational person I know and his analytical questions make him a rare asset to donors and foundations.
When she brought the check, I asked her my usual question, “How long have you been working here?”
“Was something not right? I’ve only been here a couple of months,” she replied. It wasn’t defensive. It was nervous.
“No, everything was fine. Actually, more than fine. I was just curious. Are you going to school?”
“Well, yes. I have a baby and I’m going to school at the community college. This is my second job as I also work a shift at a dress shop. I want to be a nurse.”
She laid down the check, and I gave her the credit card. My friend asked if he could take care of the tip. He pushed a bill across the table that was far larger than the tip required and said, “It’s the smallest I have.” I knew that wasn’t true but there was something in the way he said it that made me know not to question him. I matched his tip, and we tucked it in the folder behind the receipt and left.
We didn’t talk about impact and sustainability afterward. We talked about the gift we had both received at lunch. We talked about the respect we had for what she was doing. Our cash tip was not pity or being swayed by emotion. I’m not sure I have a word for it other than what Ecclesiastes (perhaps the least happy book in Scripture) calls “joy.”
So, for me, I would rather celebrate those, like our waitress, who are doing what is needed to take hold of the opportunity of education.