A few years ago, at my 10th high school reunion, I was surprised and delighted to discover that my former Sex and Marriage teacher, a man that I particularly disliked, had been scammed by a 27-year old George Mason student and sometime porn star. Apparently the young man, Anoushirvan D. Fakhran, aka "Jonathan Taylor Spielberg," posed as Stephen Spielberg's nephew, claiming that he was doing research for a forthcoming movie. My former teacher, now the principal of the school, allowed the young man to attend classes, showed him around, and gave him numerous privileges that ordinary (read: paying) students were denied. Ultimately, "Jonathan" was discovered and my alma mater was massively humiliated. I think my former teacher was farmed out to another school.
Recently, I was reminded of this as Yale University suffered a similar scam. Akash Maharaj, formerly of Trinidad and Tobago, got into Yale with the help of a forged letter of recommendation from one of Yale's professors. This letter, combined with a forged Columbia transcript, made him look very impressive, and Yale welcomed him to the school, giving him $31,750 in financial aid. He also received $7400 in federal scholarships, $6739 in loans, and $900 from a federal work-study program. During his time at the school, he received a literary prize, found a boyfriend, and generally seemed to fit right in. Unfortunately, things soured with his boyfriend, who ended up ratting him out to the University. Not long after, his forgeries were discovered and it all came crashing down.
A large number of people seem to be surprised that Akash was able to deceive Yale. Personally, having spent the last ten years working in academia, I'm impressed that he was caught. At my university, most of the administrators had worked their way up from the ranks of the professoriate, with very questionable results. After all, while a Ph.D in chemistry may be very useful in the lab, it doesn't really prepare one for the rigors of funding battles, tenure fights, or even something as simple as ordering office supplies. Moreover, I've met very few Ph.Ds who were overburdened with an excess of common sense. Frankly, I'm amazed that things like this don't happen more often.
I think the real lesson here is aimed at the next generation of college students. Rather than worry about grades and extracurriculars, smart students will start developing forgery skills, the ability to lie outrageously, and the art of exaggerating their curricula vitae. Hopefully, they will also learn the most important lesson of all: if their hard work and deception pay off, they get into the schools of their dreams, and they somehow manage to convince someone else to pay for it, the key is to then play it smart. Keep your boyfriend happy!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He has never lied on a job application. In fact, as he told the folks at Walletpop, he is a former cosmonaut, winner of the 1998 All-Namibian Speed-Skating Championship, and a part-time international assassin.
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