A Hard Lesson about Free Money

Money falling from sky in parachutes

Free Money?

“Congratulations, you have been awarded a scholarship by your high school foundation. You are invited to attend awards night and be recognized for your achievement,” the letter said. My daughter had applied to several hundred scholarships, four through her highly-ranked, public high school’s parent & legacy foundation.

She received one scholarship from a community group at their awards breakfast. It was exciting, and I was so proud of her.

I wish she had been awarded several out of the several hundred, but count the blessing, right?

Our guess was she might be awarded the need-based scholarship from the school’s foundation. The other three scholarships’ prompts had clearly sought owning class cultural responses, so she poured her heart into the need-based prompt. She wrote about sacrificing upwardly mobile careers for those enhancing community benefit, the influence of that on her career, undergraduate, and med school education path, and her work ethic.

The presenter said, “The reality is families who can’t afford college should not try to. College is only for exceptional students and our kids.”

She looked forward to awards night wondering which scholarship she might receive. When she checked-in, she discovered she was not receiving a scholarship from the school’s foundation. Her invitation was to have the scholarship she received from the community organization re-presented as a student of her high school. She was upset. I was upset.

Buck-up, March on

However, we’re used to this kind of thing. You buck-up and march on, head high, hold onto gratitude, all the things you have to do in the face of adversity – although you want to scream at your second-class citizenship due to your class position.

Okay, I’m a little angry. Three decades of underemployment and decreasing pay for increasing work will do that to a person.

She texted me from the stage, “It’s all good, Daddy. I’m over it.” She was happy for her classmates and grateful she was awarded the science scholarship she had worked hard to be eligible. The organization’s presentation really was special and she felt honored and finally recognized for her effort.

I noticed the students who were awarded scholarships, several in particular, receiving multiple awards. We know many of the kids. We know their media-visible parents, their exclusive gated mansions, and the major corporations and well-connected international consulting firms where their parents are top executives and senior partners.

To the Privileged Go the Spoils

Many of the larger scholarships were based on volunteering with community organizations commonly populated by privileged people. But what about a student working a job, focusing on extra academic loads, and overcoming learning differences, so she can become a surgeon, her lifelong passion, to help underserved communities? There aren’t enough hours in the day for a working class kid to add three or four volunteer jobs.

I don’t know why, but I Googled the families recognized, even the net worth of two that were available online. All but three of the students simply don’t need four and five figure scholarships.

Money for the Deserving Kids

That financial-need-based scholarship she applied for? The foundation didn’t even award that scholarship this year. We know at least six other kids from our lower-income neighborhood who’d also applied for it. No explanation was given.

I waited outside for my daughter and recalled the financial aid seminars the school’s foundation held during the year. I remembered the wealthy parents cynically asking how to conceal assets so they could get “the free money” before “some undeserving kid got some.” I remembered how the presenter had said, “The reality is families who can’t afford college should not try to. College is only for exceptional students and our kids.”

We endured four years of degrading institutional and cultural classism so my daughter could benefit from the privileged reputation of that school. It worked. The school’s reputation was a contributing factor in her university acceptance.

We were not the only family who felt betrayed by the invitation’s bait-and-switch. A friend of hers was in the same situation. Together we felt awkward under the circumstances. Afterwards, we were a little angry, seeing privileged kids who don’t need scholarships be awarded a mother lode.

Bottom line: We don’t want to appear ungrateful. That’s the rule when you play the Uppers for “the free money.”

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