adam.jpgRemember that young kid who lied to get into Harvard and was all over the news earlier this year? Adam Wheeler pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week but he got less fanfare than his story sparked in May.

There was a tiny news brief on page A25 of the New York Times on Friday, much less ink than Wheeler’s story go when news of his master deception broke.

A man who authorities said falsified his academic record to get into Harvard University pleaded guilty Thursday to larceny, identity fraud and other charges. Adam Wheeler, 24, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, 10 years of probation and $45,000 in restitution. According to the sentence, Mr. Wheeler will serve only 30 days in prison. In May, Mr. Wheeler was charged after forging his transcripts and receiving more than $50,000 in scholarships and grants from Harvard. Mr. Wheeler applied to the university as a transfer student, sending fabricated records from M.I.T. and Philips Academy. In reality, Mr. Wheeler attended a public high school in Delaware and Bowdoin College.

That’s it. Not even a photo of the guy. But alas, that’s how things work in the media folks. One day people are wondering who’ll play you in the movie about your life and the next you’re yesterday’s news. And that’s just how life works when it comes to the many milestones you make in your life, whether they’re fake accomplishments or real ones.

Wheeler was hoping a Harvard education would set him up for life, and why would you blame the guy for thinking that. That’s what our society tells kids all the time. But in reality what sets people up for life is following their dreams, their passions. Trust me. I hear from tons of people in their middle careers, some with lots of money and a big house, who aren’t happy and are looking for something, something they just can’t put their finger on.

They can’t put their finger on it because it was probably a dream they let die long ago and now they’re like career zombies looking for fresh blood but never being satiated.

A former college professor from an Ivy League school told me the education system at large has forgotten what it’s supposed to be doing, churning out independent thinkers who will try to change the world not just profit from it. Bill Deresiewicz, a former Yale English professor and essayist, understands the practical reasons that would cause a parent to push a child to get into an Ivy League school because of the potential to excel in four areas — finance, consulting, law and medicine. “The disadvantages are only disadvantages if you have a different kind of value system of what it means to be successful and what it means to be happy,” he said.

I think the Wheeler story is a manifestation of this. Even Wheeler’s lawyer alluded to this when I interviewed him in May for an MSNBC story.

Wheeler’s attorney, Steven Sussman, would not comment on his client’s reasons for wanting to attend Harvard. But he acknowledged that the pressure on young people to get into an Ivy League school “is absurd.” He pointed to the 2009 documentary “Nursery University” about New York City parents who are trying to get their kids on the Ivy League university track as early as preschool.

Here’s a trailer from the movie:

It’s a disturbing look at parents run amok and trying to get their kids into the best nurseries in New York. They think they’re doing what’s best for their kids and their kids’ futures but all the while seemingly disregarding their kids. I’m able to throw stones here because I can be one of these parents sometimes. Recently I found myself upset that my daughter got an A minus on a test and thank goodness I had my husband to slap me back into reality.

So, was it worth it for Wheeler to lie to get into Harvard? If you’re cynical like I am and figure he’s going to get rich off a book about his story you’ll be happy, or unhappy, to hear the sentence against him included a provision that he could not profit from his exploits.

Was it worth it? It all depends on how you define success. The thing I found most interesting and telling about the New York Times brief was this section:

Mr. Wheeler applied to the university as a transfer student, sending fabricated records from M.I.T. and Philips Academy. In reality, Mr. Wheeler attended a public high school in Delaware and Bowdoin College.

In reality, he just attended a public high school in Delaware. This line has a lot of meaning for me because my kids, now going to Delaware elementary schools, may end up in a Delaware public high school some day. Nice to see the New York Times thinks they’re doomed.

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