In Wrentham, Massachusetts, King Philip High School has achieved a singular honor. Two — two! — of its graduating seniors, Jeffrey Chin of Plainville and William Small of Norfolk have both been accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. And as is their tradition, West Point intended to formally accept the two at the school’s awards ceremony.
Unfortunately, the Superintendant of Schools didn’t agree. According to reports, the school only allows local groups who offer scholarships to make presentations at the awards banquets. Schools that offer scholarships are not invited, and not welcome to attend.
I can almost understand this policy. These ceremonies tend to drag on and on and on and on. Setting some kinds of limits makes a bit of sense, and limiting it to just local groups who offer scholarships has a certain logic to it. But I think I can make an argument for excluding the various military academies.
1) The cadets of the academy receive free tuition. In essence, they all receive full scholarships from the United States government. And since the government has no money of its own, this means that every single taxpayer in the United States contributes to their college education. Therefore, every single taxpayer in the school district is paying the tuition bills for Mr. Chin and Mr. Small, making it a “local” scholarship.
2) The scholarships are hardly free. Upon graduation, every single officer has to start paying that debt back by serving a minimum of five years in the Army. In that sense, it’s quite possibly the most expensive education in the world, as I can’t think of any other college program that requires the student to give back five years of their lives in exchange for four years of education — and with the understanding that the payback may very well cost them their lives.
3) For god’s sake, it’s WEST POINT. The four service academies — the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland; the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, are NOT LIKE any other colleges in the United States. To lump them into the same category as regular colleges and universities is patently absurd.
The decision by the school superintendant, Richard Robbat, is under terrific public pressure. Talk radio hosts are giving out his number and urging people to call. Members of Congress (including, astonishingly, Ted Kennedy (D-Chivas) have expressed their disapproval. Parents and officials are howling in outrage. And State Senator Scott Brown (R-Wrentham) (A major in the Massachusetts National Guard and father of “American Idol” contestant Ayla Brown) has said that he will NOT present a scholarship at the gathering as planned, but will at another venue.
I hope that this gets settled soon. As a matter of principle, this is a huge fight, and needs to be settled. But in the meantime, there are two very worthy young men who find themselves embarrassed to be at the center of all this fuss.
Hold strong, Mr. Chin and Mr. Small. This will pass, and will most likely be a very minor footnote in what promise to be two noble careers. Whatever happens or does not happen at this one small-town ceremony will matter little in the long run.