News on the college-admissions front often has some element of fascination and intrigue. After all, most of us could only dream of gaining a coveted slot at an Ivy League school like Harvard or Stanford. So, news that a young “Genius Girl” was able to snag what sounded like the most illustrious and custom-made program of all sounded absolutely fantastic. Too good to be true! Well, as it turns it, it was.
(Photo Credit: harshlight/Flickr)
That’s because it was all a gigantic hoax.
The name of the hoaxer “Genius Girl” has been largely withheld from most news stories, because she’s a minor and she hasn’t been accused of any crime, but her story has invoked international outrage and consternation, as we learn that “Sara” lied about being accepted to a dual Harvard-Stanford program. She even claimed to have been in contact with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s not terribly surprising that we believed her. She created fake emails and letters to back up her story, according to the Washington Post. Her father was also instrumental in pushing the story out to international news sources, and it appears to have been skeptical fellow-classmates, at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), who broke the story wide open.
But why did she do it? She appears to have created the elaborate hoax, because she was under enormous pressure from her parents, teachers, and the community at large. It certainly made her parents proud, for that brief time. She was a media darling in South Korea.
She got just what she wanted, until it all blew up in her face.
Pressure to Succeed
Yes, we’ve likely all been under pressure to succeed, to varying degrees. Even if we haven’t attended an illustrious school, many of us would say that our parents want what’s best for us (or, at least they want our success to reflect well on them). High schools would love their students to become prestigious alumni (and TJ admitted to the Washington Post that the bar is high, contributing to anxiety).
There are also levels of stress that are difficult to fully grasp, until you find yourself at the center of that maelstrom. Twenty-seven percent of surveyed high school students claimed they had “extreme stress,” according to USA Today.
Stress can do more than impact physical and emotional health. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds. And, according to Dr. Harold Cohen, a multitude of reasons contribute to that, including: “stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, and financial uncertainty.” So there’s no denying that that intense pressure is a very real phenomenon, and it causes young people to respond in some drastic ways. But, let’s face it, most of us aren’t tempted to fabricate a complete fairy tale that has international implications; and most of us wouldn’t allow the hoax to go to such extreme lengths.
Pressures abound, everywhere, at every time of life, and those pressures are not unique to our culture or educational institutions. It’s that pressure that demonstrates a person’s integrity and character. That’s not to say that we should push every person until they break, with no consideration of what each of us is capable of.
Even though she doesn’t appear to have intended her hoax to be broadcast so far, it goes back to the whole “Never Cry Wolf” concept. Yes, her lies will affect her life, possibly even her college options, future reputation, and possibly even her career choices. But, what’s perhaps even more troubling is that her hoax will also affect the credibility of every other student who has a success story to tell. Won’t you think twice the next time you hear about a fabulously brilliant young person, who’s making strides?
Fault and Consequences
We’re eager to believe stories like these, and so we may all bear some blame in the media circus that ensued. But, it still goes back to a young woman who told a lie, and then followed up that lie with a series of fraudulent documents. If she wasn’t so young, or we didn’t feel at least a little sorry for her, we’d probably call her a con-artist.
I’m curious to hear what you think should happen with our “Genius Girl.” Perhaps she should rethink her chosen career path, and become a fiction writer. She’s obviously adept at the art of fabricating a compelling story.
But, there’s something else: It has happened before. (Last time it was prank rejection letter that went viral.) So, it’ll happen again. Will you believe the story next time?
Tell Us What You Think
Have you ever lied about something on the job, and then been called out on it? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.