Better grades, better career?

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The story that broke last month about all the large payoffs made by rich parents with no scruples to get their unqualified children into elite universities gave most of us a shot of that German tonic called schadenfreude.

For those who sorta understand the meaning of that word but don’t really, it means “experiencing pleasure from witnessing another person’s misfortune, or fall from grace.”

The term applies particularly to the demise of famous people.

The fact that two middling actresses, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were among the guilty who forked out serious cash to get their spoiled daughters into colleges that were out of their reach, gave this recent story depth and breadth.

Why Ms. Loughlin, who gained fame on the mindless sitcom Full House, didn’t just give half a million bucks to add a wing onto the USC library is beyond me. It’s common knowledge that donations like that have gotten many an air-headed rich kid into a top-rated university in years past.

The story also refreshed a bittersweet memory I had from many years ago, when my father returned from a hard day at his dental office and was elated to learn that I had received a conditional scholarship offer from Stanford University.

The golf coach, Bud Finger, sent me a flattering letter and an open plane ticket to visit the Palo Alto campus in the month of April. He inferred that if my grades and SAT score were acceptable, he was prepared to offer me a full ride to the school my father had always dreamed I would some day attend.

In my heart, I was skeptical whether I was Stanford material, but I wasn’t about to turn down a free trip out of a too-long-and-cold Spokane winter and miss spending four days on the Stanford University course and campus. I also wrongly assumed that Stanford admission officials had checked my grades and SAT scores with the good Jesuits at Gonzaga Prep.

The week went well. I shot a couple rounds in the low 70s on the challenging course, playing with two varsity golf team stalwarts, and I matched them stroke for stroke. Those guys apparently gave a decent report to Coach Finger, because he was upbeat on a subsequent visit to his office.

“We can definitely see you playing for us, Jack,” he said. “But I need to ask you: What is your current GPA?”

Again, I remember being surprised that he hadn’t been given that information.

“Uh, it’s a 3.4, Coach,” I said. “But Gonzaga is a tough school.”

His face showed immediate concern. After a long pause he said, “Jack, Stanford turns down over 100 high school valedictorians a year.”

He then said, “What’s your SAT score?”

I told him it was 1220, which was better than average. But admissions officers at Stanford blew their noses at that score.

“Our average freshman has a score of 1380,” Coach Finger said.

The room got deathly quiet. Partly to break the silence, my next comment came out sounding pretty cocky. “But Coach, don’t Pac-8 schools have a 2 percent rule, where entering athletes can be admitted despite being below the standard scores?”

“Yes, there is that rule,” he said. “But we’ve already offered that to a young man from Missouri who has similar academic scores to yours but an exceptional playing record.”

“Uh, who’s that? I stammered.

“His name is Tom Watson,” he said.

And so I left Palo Alto the next morning, knowing my dad would be heartbroken that his only son wouldn’t be going to Stanford.

It all worked out fine, because I had four wonderful years at the University of Oregon, competing against Stanford and Tom Watson. In my sophomore year, Tom and I made the Pac-8 All-Conference team. That was the last time my name would ever be included on a golf list with Mr. Watson, who would go on to win eight major championships and is considered one of the 10 greatest golfers of all time.

The next year, 1970, my Ducks actually beat the Indians (now Cardinal) at the NCAA championship in Columbus, Ohio.

To hear this recent news that rich kids were buying their way into colleges that had rejected us middle-income, average kids, well, that gave a whole new luster to that mellifluous German word schadenfreude.

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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