Valley Voices

Rich might buy their way into top colleges, but intellectual curiosity is priceless

As we watched the college admission scandal unfold, it was easy to recognize a moral train wreck peppered with our own schadenfreude. We succumbed to our penchant for celebrity gossip as images of a University of Southern California Trojan “influencer” reeled us into the news reports.

The young woman seemed to prefer eye shadow over schoolwork. We reacted with indignation. How dare the rich use their money to buy privilege!

We were pleased as malfeasance was stopped in its tracks.

Danielle R. Shapazian / Special to The Bee

Disclaimer: I don’t have any children I have put through college. I do have a teenage niece for whom I recently bought a twenty-dollar SAT study guide.

I support all types of education, wherever you can get it, in whatever form — whether that quest for knowledge manifests for free or at an expensive cost.

I support the reinforcement of general curiosity: pre-school programs, the Internet, and public libraries. I support any effort that expands one’s mind and promotes the ability to get a good job, to use a wide expanse of information to make good decisions, to guide your heart and your brain wisely.

I do not support lying or cheating to get there.

I understand the allure of an elite education. I grew up dreaming of ivy-covered brick buildings that housed smart people. As a girl, I’d relish stories of teenagers who attended boarding schools while wearing plaid skirts and knee socks. I wanted to be one of those girls, owning their books and their adventures. But that world was a million miles from the vineyard where I lived, a world I could only imagine.

When it came time to go to college, my dad wanted me to attend his “legacy” school — Fresno State. Thinking I should have greater aspirations, I initially fought him on this. Ultimately, I gave in.

California State University, Fresno may not be an “elite” campus, but I received an excellent education there and I am forever a grateful Bulldog. My college years were paid for by scholarship and my career has not been any less valuable because of where I obtained my degrees. A good education is just a springboard.

Today, getting into a prestigious university can be a high-stakes endeavor. A dear friend who lives not far from Stanford University has relayed to me that parents there routinely use high-priced tutoring services and academic counselors to enhance their kids’ chances of making the cut. Some families in Fresno and Clovis use similar game plans. I have a writer friend who for years has volunteered his expertise to help high school students optimize the essays they attach to their college applications.

Meanwhile, many high school graduates use the community college system to great advantage. For only $46 per unit, a student within the State Center Community College District can develop a strong curriculum that facilitates matriculation into a University of California or California State University undergraduate program. Conversely, knowledge may rise for some in the acquisition of an important trade skill.

The public can also benefit from what these schools offer. I marvel at the high caliber of speakers brought in by the Reedley College Literary Arts program.

A few days before news of the admission scandal broke, I was driving in the car with my 96 year-old aunt when she asked me if I knew anything about Helen of Troy. Someone in her retirement community had made the reference and she was curious as to who Helen was.

I thought for a moment. I didn’t really have an answer. But from somewhere deep inside my brain, a kernel of recognition poked. A large, wooden horse came to mind.

Was Helen of Troy a character from Greek mythology? I asked the rhetorical question before prompting my aunt to Google the information on her phone. What would have taken a young person a few moments to research took my aunt several minutes. She didn’t give up. Finally, she began to read out loud her new-found facts.

God bless my high school English teacher, Mrs. Hearn. She forced us to read Homer’s seemingly dry “Illiad” on our seemingly dry Central Valley high school campus, a place with no ivy on its walls.

Yes, there was a Trojan horse in that story. There was a Helen, too.

Writer William Saroyan once masked Fresno as Ithaca and named his protagonist Homer.

Intellectual curiosity and the hunger to learn can never be bought with money.

Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at