TALK ABOUT COLD-HEARTED. Three months after making an offer of early admission to Gina Grant, a bright and affable senior at the Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Harvard University has yanked it back. And why? Because 4-1/2 years ago, when Grant was still living in Lexington, S.C., she killed her mother by bashing in the woman's skull 13 times with a lead crystal candlestick. How unfair. What kind of reason is matricide to jeopardize the future of this engaging young woman, who is described by her school's administrator, Ruby Pierce, as "caring, loving, giving of herself at all times?"
OK, so Grant -- whom Pierce fondly likens to "the Ivory Soap girl" -- committed a grotesque and brutal crime. OK, so she tried to make the killing look like a suicide by getting her hooligan boyfriend to jab a steak knife into her dead mother's neck and wrap the victim's fingers around the handle. Don't we all mess up once in a while?
It's not like she hasn't paid her debt to society. The judge in South Carolina made her spend a full six months in juvenile detention. Only then did he let her take off for Massachusetts, where she has an aunt and uncle.
Yet for some reason Harvard is in a snit. The university objects to the fact that Grant lied on her college application, answering "no" to the question about whether she had ever been disciplined or placed on probation. It cites a policy of reconsidering offers of admission to students who engage in "behavior that brings into question honesty, maturity, or moral character." Moral character? Who gave colleges the right to take that into account?
If Harvard wants to know about Grant's moral character, all it has to do is read the profile about her that was published in The Boston Globe Magazine a week ago Sunday -- the one that described how remarkable it is that Grant, "an orphan," has her own apartment, cooks her own meals and tutors biology to sixth-graders. True, she dissembled about the circumstances of her mother's death, waving off the topic by claiming it was too painful to discuss. She did, however, chat about how tough and independent she is. "Life," she observed, "doesn't stop when your parents die."
Well, it does for your parents. Especially when they get their brains beaten to jelly by their Ivory Soap daughter.
It was in the wake of that magazine profile that the truth about Grant seeped out. News clippings about her past were mailed anonymously to Rindge and Latin and to Harvard. It's rotten that anyone could be so mean-spirited as to warn the schools that this "caring, loving, giving" honor student is actually a convicted killer, but there you are. "She is apparently being victimized," says the father of Grant's latest boyfriend, "by an anonymous crank." Outrageous. Where will it all end? Are anonymous cranks next going to victimize child molesters, spilling the beans about their past when they move into a neighborhood?
Happily for Grant, Rindge and Latin has rallied to her defense. Her tennis coach says soothingly, "She never gets excited. She never gets angry." Mary Lou McGrath, the superintendent of the Cambridge public schools, announces that teachers and administrators "have nothing but praise" for Grant, who "remains in good standing" at the school. One classmate describes Grant as "one of the greatest people I've ever met." Adds another: "She's never even said a mean thing."
This is what makes the Cambridge high school so special. Students may not learn anything there -- one in three got failing grades last year -- but at least they don't change their opinion of a classmate just because she turns out to have beaten her mother to death with a candlestick.
Let Harvard obsess with "moral character"; Rindge and Latin is more broad-minded. So what if Grant hasn't publicly uttered a word of remorse for her ghastly deed? So what if she and her lawyer claim it's all right to lie on college applications? So what if nobody seems to care enough to express sorrow for the murder victim, the unhappy Dorothy Mayfield? At Rindge and Latin, loyalty to Grant comes first.
So, come to think of it, did loyalty to Shon McHugh.
In 1992, McHugh was one of three Rindge and Latin scholars who robbed and killed Yngve Raustein, an MIT student from Norway. It was McHugh, then 15 -- a good kid, his peers said; a smart kid, a quiet kid -- who plunged the murder weapon, a six-inch knife, through Raustein's heart. When he was arraigned for murder, his classmates naturally crowded the Cambridge courthouse to protest.
"People die all the time. So what?" demanded one. Another objected to the attempt to try McHugh as an adult (and thus open the door to a life sentence): "The kid did something stupid. You can't make him pay with his whole life."
Besides, shrugged a third, the victim "was just one MIT guy."
Unlike Gina Grant, McHugh never applied to Harvard. Not that it would have made a difference. Given its fetish for "moral character," Harvard probably would have turned him down, too.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe. His website is www.JeffJacoby.com).
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