Many people see affirmative action as a slippery slope to Harrison Bergeron. In light of a previous article and in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that twice in my life I’ve been an Affirmative Action™ figure.
Here they are:
Getting into prep school
I’ve already mentioned that I went to a prep school, but I never mentioned how I got there.
Through a little statistical quirk, most of the boys of my brother’s fifth grade planned to matriculate into the private school. My brother took the entrance exam, got in, and begged to go. My father was reluctant but had to relent because the prospect of giving his son a sense of being “held back” because of finances would have been devastating to his development.
Because my brother went to prep school, my dad felt it would be wrong to withhold the same opportunity from me. I, on the other hand, was fully determined to save my parents at least three years of private school tuition, and only took the exam as a trial run.
I must have not done well on the exam because I was put on the wait list.
With less than two weeks left before the start of the school year, I was admitted. My mother argued that since I barely got in, I should accept despite the cost. The odds of me getting in the senior school would be remote as most of the spots would necessarily have to go to girls.
The affirmative action plan
Here is what really happened.
Starting with my brother’s class, the headmaster noticed the composition of orientals in the student body growing tremendously.
Standing athwart history, yelling Stop, he set about wait listing every Asian who applied to enter the 6th grade that year, I among them.
In the summer, he took sabbatical and the assistant headmaster became in charge of admission. Whenever a prospective declined the invitation, he took affirmative action and admitted an Asian from the wait list. By the start of the school year, two of us had been admitted.
The second person was me. I eventually graduated third of my high class. I was also awarded the journalism prize for introducing the school newspaper to desktop publishing, given the science prize for highest science GPA, became the first ever recipient of the computer prize, and achieved the highest physics GPA ever there.
The person admitted before me? Oh, he was only our valedictorian.
On the golf course
I was unaware of this until well after that headmaster retired—history had not stopped and it’s almost unimaginable that his deputy had ever had to engage in affirmative action.
But as luck would have it, he ended being a member of the same country club as my parents. One day, my parents ran into him while waiting at a tee box.
The sight, on the golf course, of my mother, a tiny Korean woman and professor of theoretical biology, excoriating a portly retired white man in front of his buddies for a discriminatory act that he could not deny he committed a decade before…
Well, it just brings a tear to my eye.
The second instance
What was the second time? I already wrote about it.
My acceptance letter to graduate school in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began…
Dear Ms. Chay,
We are pleased to admit you to …
Did I check the wrong gender box? I almost had a heart attack!