- - Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Zachary Wood can’t wait to start college.

The 18-year-old high school graduate is so anxious to get back into the classroom that he’s foregoing his summer vacation to enter the university system early.

The black native of the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., recently graduated from high school with a stunning 5.25 grade-point average, and although he received invitations from several Ivy League schools to attend their summer programs, none of them offered him any financial assistance despite his impressive academic achievements, hardship background or minority-student status.

Zach didn’t have the $19,000 that Yale University required to attend its summer writer’s conference or the $14,000 that Stanford required to enter its program, either. He didn’t even have the $3,000 that Brown required to attend its 8-week summer session.

That didn’t stop him, though.

“I didn’t have the money I needed to attend because of the school’s financial policies,” he told me during an interview. “The only reason I can attend now is because I set up a fundraising page online.”

After a successful media campaign, he raised more than $13,000.

Prominent art patron and George Washington University desegregation champion Peggy Cooper Cafritz was moved by Zach’s story when she heard about it and donated enough to cover his summer tuition at Stanford.

Like Ms. Cafritz, Zach’s passion for learning impressed me, and his story intrigued me.

I found it ironic that many of the same schools that promote affirmative-action policies within their social science departments apparently didn’t think it was worthwhile to award him a scholarship on the basis of his minority status, hardship background or noteworthy academic achievement.

Zach probably thought I was taking notes on my MacBook the whole time he was talking with me, but I was also Google-searching the many economists, political scientists and sociologists that he was talking about so I could keep up with him.

A regular subscriber to the writings of economist Jeffrey Sachs, Zach wanted to make sure that I understood that his top two influences were Ralph Waldo Emerson, a poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of self-reliance, and conversely, Cornel West, a prominent thinker in the American socialist movement.

“I definitely see myself as a Democrat, a neoliberal taking many of the same political stances as [President] Obama, but I have some different views when it comes to fiscal policy,” he explained. “I think that [Mitt] Romney had some good ideas, and that Newt Gingrich made some good points in his new book.”

To my surprise, he’d even read several of my own Washington Times commentaries in preparation for his interview.

“Who is that?” he asked curiously as he pointed to a framed photograph of an austere looking man behind my desk.

“Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” I told him. Zach looked surprised, noting, “It doesn’t look like him in that picture.”

I couldn’t help but find his incredible familiarity with history endearing.

“What do you want to study in school?” I asked.

“Political science, and then I’d like to go to Harvard Law School.”

“And what do you want to do with that?”

“I’d like to become president of the United States one day,” he confidently told me. “But if that doesn’t work out, I would be happy in the U.S. Senate.”

Listening to this very inspired, brilliant young man speak, I couldn’t help but feel that the Ivy League schools he applied to made a terrible mistake.

I decided to call Yale University to find out why they couldn’t do more to help Zach.

Karen Peart, a spokesman for the university told me, “Yale offers generous financial-aid packages to eligible students enrolled in undergraduate degree programs. This is a summer writer’s conference, which does not have funds to provide financial aid.”

So why offer the conference at all, I wondered? Was this just a money-making venture? After all, $19,000 for a summer writer’s conference sounded pretty pricey.

Call me crazy, but it didn’t sound like the program’s primary purpose was promoting education.

Fortunately, Zach was granted enough financial aid to attend Williams College in the fall, and Stanford University — to its credit — ultimately granted him a partial $7,000 scholarship for the summer.

Whatever schools Zach attends throughout his education he will most likely encounter some leftist professors who will try to convince him that minorities need affirmative action, and that the poor can’t get ahead without government assistance.

No matter what leftist rhetoric Zach encounters throughout his university career, those left-leaning professors will face the problem that Zach has already proved them wrong.

His story demonstrates that individualism and determination can lead to success, irrespective of one’s race or economic class, and when one tries with unrelenting determination, there are always others in a free society who are willing to help — not because they have to, but because they want to.

Simply put: Zachary Wood is living the American dream, and one day Yale will regret not being a part of making his dreams come true.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a legal analyst at The Washington Times.

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