Federal prosecutors have announced a series of high-profile indictments stemming from a huge investigation into a multi-million dollar college admissions cheating scandal. Some 50 people have been charged in what U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.”
Among those charged are 33 parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Charges included “felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.”
The central player in the scheme known as “Operation Varsity Blues” was a man named William Singer, who, between 2011 and 2018, was paid roughly $25 million by wealthy parents seeking to secure their children a place at a prestigious college. The technicalities of the scam involved fraudulent SAT and ACT exam sittings, and even falsifying athletic credentials to gain entrance into elite colleges such as Stanford, Yale, UCLA and Georgetown.
“This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense to cheat to the system so they could set their children up for success with the best money can buy,” Joseph Bonavolonta from the FBI Boston Field Office told Fox News. “Today’s arrests should be a warning to others. You can’t pay to play. You can’t lie and cheat to get ahead.”
It’s a shocking case that is currently reverberating across the nation, the most damning detail of which has to be that the parents knowingly paid such extortionate sums in order to get ahead of the fair competition and take the place of a hardworking student. But aside from gawking at the juicy details of the scandal, this bombshell case should serve as a warning to us all of what happens when we put pride and success above integrity and discipline.
We live in a world full of unhealthy, cutthroat competition. Whether in the sphere of academics, business, sports or otherwise, our culture champions and respects those who excel and achieve. While some respond to this competition in healthy ways, by working hard and assuring their identity is rooted in something much bigger, there are others who will do absolutely anything to get ahead of their rivals in a desperate bid to appear successful to those around them.
So what is this behavior rooted in? Well, pride. When we get caught up in the perpetual hamster wheel that is worldly success and achievement, we relent ourselves to the prideful nature that exists inside each and every one of us. Careening headfirst down this path of material success, we actively choose to turn from humble service of God and our neighbor, and insist, at all costs, that the world must revolve around ourselves and our goals.
Unfortunately, not only is our very human nature predisposed to this selfish mindset, but the world is also geared toward insisting that we must be the best, look the best and beat the competition at every level. We are surrounded by tools which make it easy to compare ourselves to others, we have developed schooling systems that celebrate the gifted and ridicule the less academic, and we place the strong and able upon a pedestal.
The first shall be last
Thankfully, despite our misguided views on success and outward appearance, the Lord looks straight past all of this and gazes deep into the human heart. He sees what we are all about, such that there is no need for us to try and “fake it” or attempt to cheat our way to the top. He knows what our true motivations are and will not be fooled by our outward show of success.
“The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” — 1 Samuel 16:7
In this area of worldly gain, the Bible gives us abundantly clear instruction. We are not to get caught up in the unending rat race of earthly competition, academic achievement and monetary successes. As the Bible warns, this will lead to spiritual ruin:
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” reads Proverbs 11:2. Instead, we are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We are called to set ourselves apart from the world by living a life full of integrity and humble service.
Of course, that means we might not achieve first place every single time. This style of living may also result in others criticizing or thinking that we are strange, weak, incompetent or out-of-touch. But rest assured, these harsh words will not prevail. Keep “a clear conscience,” urges the Apostle Peter in his first epistle, “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
So, when you are anxious to get ahead and are tempted to trample the competition in order to achieve your ends, remember this one, simple Scripture which encapsulates the very Kingdom of God: “The last shall be first, and the first last.” — Matthew 20:16